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Concert Review: Sisters Of Mercy – Nottingham

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Let's just get one thing straight from the start: I love the Sisters Of Mercy. They're an important band for me – the soundtrack for some fond memories from my childhood is provided by Andrew Eldritch and co. One such memory involves the first paper-based role-playing game I ever acquired (Nightlife, thanks for asking) and the track playing in the background as we rolled our first characters was "Vision Thing".

And I've continued to love them. Despite my wandering preferences, and lack of enthusiasm or tolerance for some of the bands I favoured back "then", I've continued to listen to, and enjoy, Vision Thing and Floodland in recent years. And so, it was with much excitement that I made my way to Nottingham to see them perform at Rock City. Little did I know that discovering a new car park would be the most exciting event of the evening…

It doesn't start well. The support act, The Ivories, give an uninspiring performance full of jangly, haunted-house guitars and screeching vocals. Their front-woman's painful lack of charisma renders the whole performance deeply tiresome after the first few songs. Credit where it's due: The drummer does a nice job, and her backing vocals are far better than the lead's.

During the relative calm of the post-support interval, I pick my way through the assembled crowd (one of the largest I've seen at Rock City) to the bar. After much dodging and weaving I arrive and wait keenly, elbows perched on the bar, for a member of staff to catch my gaze. My eyes wander to the full-length mirrors behind the bar and I realise with some amusement how bizarre I look. I'd made a half-hearted attempt at "goth" for the night; an old Vampire:The Masquerade t-shirt had been dusted off and pulled out of the wardrobe. This proved too small (I'm sure it must have shrunk in the wash or something), and so I switched to my faithful grey Bullseye t-shirt. As a result, my reflection in the mirrors makes me look like a darts fan at an Addams Family convention, surrounded as I am by frilly white shirts, black sequined dresses, and large amounts of leather. 

In the moments before the main act appear, vast amounts of smoke are pumped onto the stage. Vast amounts; just as I think there can't possibly be any more smoke, there is. Eventually, veiled by an obscene amount of smoke, three figures "appear" on stage and launch into their opening track. The energetic, thrusting guitar sounds pretty good, but Eldritch's vocals are quite low in the mix, and I have difficulty making out which song this is. I come to the conclusion that it's a new track called "Crash and Burn". 

From here, things start to go wrong. The sound guy (let's call him Bob) is furiously playing with his knobs and dials, and at this point I still have sufficient faith to think that he'll fix the sound. A fan appears behind me, shouting at a bearded guy who is busily pushing buttons behind Bob. "Why's he so quiet?" he shouts and Beard frantically points at Bob – "Not me! Him! Him!". The fan moves away; Bob is clearly engrossed in his knobs.

The second track kicks off – "Ribbons". A rather large, female goth is hoisted onto the shoulders of someone in front of me and, in silhouette against the lights and smoke of the stage, starts to perform elaborate actions to the words of the song. She's obviously decided that, as Eldritch is pretty much inaudible, she'll sign the lyrics for everyone. How nice of her.

Third track: A sort of “Dr.

Jeep/Detonation Boulevard” medley. I begin to wonder just what exactly is going on with the vocals? Eldritch is way too quiet, and yet the backing vocals provided by his God-awful shouty nu-metal guitarist are horribly loud. A new track follows. At least, I think it's a new track – by this point things might as well be instrumental. The stage is now so full of smoke that the band are no longer even silhouettes. I think I catch a section of the chorus, something along the lines of "if it makes you happy". I don't think this is a Sheryl Crow cover, however.

Next come two popular tracks, "When You Don't See Me" and "Flood I". A large (male) ponytailed goth is hoisted up in front of me, and I can't help but wonder what the guy holding him looks like. Finger wiggling, wrist crossing, and some sort of kung-fu style punching (think: the training scene from Enter The Dragon) ensue. Ponytail is having a good time, at least.

Three more new tracks follow, and by this point I'm so bored that I check my email and send a few text messages. There are now three finger wiggling goths silhouetted against the stage; every one of them more enthusiastic than Eldritch. I remark to myself how much one of the new tracks sounds like "Sweet Dreams". Bob is still frantically flicking switches and twirling knobs. I still can't hear Eldritch and the rest of the noise from on-stage hasn't changed at all – I become convinced that they've given Bob a desk that isn't plugged in.

After what seems like an age of unidentifiable noise, they play "Dominion/Mother Russia". Things sound slightly more impressive for a while, but tedium soon returns. I still can't hear anything, and the idiot on guitar is shouting into his microphone again. I do manage to figure out what the floaty goth dancers are doing by this point though; They are clearly as bored as me, and are doing the old linked-thumbs, wiggle-fingers "Look – it's a butterfly" shadow puppets routine.

At this point the will to live has pretty much departed as five more mysterious tracks are played. I can appreciate the urge to play new material, but when the lead singer isn't introducing anything to the crowd, and when you've not released an album for nearly ten years, it gets quite tedious. Eldritch hops about for one track making loud gargling noises, which sound exactly like The Cookie Monster doing the Tarzan yodel. What's particularly surprising is that the gig is being filmed; a guy wanders over to change the tape just after the Tarzan track, and squints – in that "I know what I'm doing, me" type way – through the eye piece. I'm sure, just like the rest of us, all he can see is a stage full of smoke. 

"This Corrosion" is played and the crowd, for the first time all night, become animated. Slightly. The band then promptly depart from the stage. A few moments later they return for an encore of "Something Fast" (with accompaniment from a mysteriously absent female vocalist) and "Lucretia". The audience react well, Ponytail is hoisted above the crowd again (although this time he's taking a leaf out of the large female goth's book and is signing to the words), and Bob is still leaping from one end of the mixing desk to the other, desperately looking for the volume control. Or the off switch.

They finish again, Eldritch bows and they leave. Then they return again. Except something is wrong. There is no smoke, and no Eldritch. The two guitarists leap about for a few minutes, performing what I believe they think is a spirited instrumental track but which actually looks very silly. Particularly as shouty Nu-metal guitarist manages to propel his sunglasses across the stage mid-leap. The smoke returns, as does Eldritch, and I start to wonder whether he's had some sort of horrible disfiguring accident and can't bear to have the crowd look at him. Or maybe the mist just follows him around, like some sort of bad b-movie monster? For their finale, the band perform a Sisters of Mercy tribute-act quality version of “Temple of Love,” and are gone. 

This gig was, without doubt, the worst I've seen in a long time, maybe ever. And I never thought I'd say that about the Sisters Of Mercy. I really wanted Eldritch to be as magnificent live as he is on the albums, but based on this gig, he's not. Will we ever see a new Sisters of Mercy album? I have to wonder. Some of the "new" tracks have been part of the set since 1993, and Eldritch still hasn't released them. I also have to wonder whether the bad vocal mixing and the ludicrous amounts of smoke weren't intentional; all part of Andrew Eldritch's attempt at self-mythologising. One things for sure: I'll never pay money to see them again.

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  • me

    personal attacks are not allowed against the reviews but acceptable against the audience.


  • moreau

    This is exactly the same way I felt about the Norwich gig! Though have to say I left well before the end. The worst gig I had ever been to as well. Cant understand why some were raving saying they are the best set of gigs ever. They obviously havent seen many gigs recently. Time and a lot of the fans have moved on, the Sisters and a small minority of devoteds have not.

    Big shame. I am now wondering whether to put my CD’s and Shot Rev2.0 video on Ebay.

  • Daniel Woolstencroft

    Thanks moreau, much as I’d like to convince myself that the Nottingham gig was a one off, I’ll have to accept that, for now, they’re just not that great live. Shame.

  • http://none Stephen Minister

    This is a very accurate summing up of how I felt. What a complete waste of £22.50! Andrew Eldrich used to look so good now what can I say apart from the fact that he now looks like an extra from the tv show ‘Shameless’. I wonder just how much of the actual gig was live and how much was laid down and pre recorded, I suspect that much of the lead vocals were being mimed too. The guitarist was a complete embarasment throughout. If you are reading this Mr Eldrich then if that is the best you can do then just dont bother!

  • Andy.W.

    I agree TOTALLY !!
    I last saw The Sisters at Rock City in 2000 and they were CRAP.
    I’m a fan from the ‘old’ days, and it’s tragic to see …
    I said then I’d NEVER see them live again and judging by all the recent comments I feel I DEF. made the right decision !!!

  • Kevin from Atlanta

    You know… I saw them on this tour in Atlanta back in ’06 and I have to say… this review more or less describes the show I saw, too. WAY too smokey, sound quality was crap, and the crowd was just not into it.

    Eldrich is also not aging gracefully. And by that I don’t mean that he’s showing wrinkles or anything, but I mean he’s just too bought into the idea of his own mystique that he can’t wink at the crowd occasionally. This is the difference between someone like David Bowie and him. Bowie will pull a face every now and then, and let the audience know he’s one of them, after all.

    But back to the show… yeah, I actually leaned over to a fellow audience member and had an exchange that was like, “are you into this? No? Me neither….”

    And all this is on my mind because they’re set to play Atlanta in two days, and I’m wondering if I’ll go. I really WANT to like them, but will this just happen again?

    I saw them on the ’91 tour with Public Enemy, and they were amazing. I saw them in ’98 and they were less amazing. I saw them in ’06 and they were not at all even interesting. So what now?

  • Evan

    I saw them at the 930 club in DC last week, and it’s pretty much the same show, and same problems. The vocal mix was awful, and the setlist sounds like it was pretty much the same.

    It definitely seemed like a “we got some bills to pay” kind of show. I had fun, but then again, I’m easy to please. I have a lot of great memories attached to those songs.

  • Sean

    I saw TSOM last night in Minneapolis (Nov 18 ’08) and your review of the Rock City gig could absolutely be applied to what I saw too. Floodland is one of my all time fave albums and I couldn’t believe I was getting the chance to see The Sisters play in 2008. Like you said, I could hardly hear the lead vocals and the smoke was way out of control. The first 3 or 4 tracks sounded identical and I only became interested when This Corrosion was played. It took ages for me to even recognise it because they just killed it. I think the out of control smoke machines are a deliberate stunt to distract you from the fact they have no rhythm section. No live bass player and no drummer either. Apart from the guy playing the white Fender Strat stage left, the whole performance (or what I saw of it before I left) looked contrived and ‘phoned in. Deeply disappointing. The worst gig I’ve been to for ages.

  • Brad

    I was in Minneapolis as well. You could not be more wrong. The vocals were over-the-top loud and crystal clear. I was standing front/centre.

    The best gig in ages.

  • denver fan

    I saw the same horrible show in 2006 here in Denver but thought it was a fluke and bought tix for a show here in Denver last night. An even WORSE show than 2006 – the fog was so thick I wasn’t even sure Andrew was on stage. The lead vocals were non-existent. Worst show I’ve ever been to. Why does he even bother touring — what a rip off. Sisters very very lame and disappointing — well, Andrew, at least, the guitars seemed to be trying hard. The only good thing was the opening act – Hypernova. They ROCKED and I bought their CD afterwards. Would definitely go see them again, but not the sisters.

  • James

    Saw the show in Denver too. Horrible.

  • THA

    Saw their show in San Diego Sat Nov 29th. All the former comments echo what I saw. Tons of smoke, substandard vocals, and what I thought was lip syncing. I would have enjoyed my night better sitting home listening to old albums. Too bad, a great band that seems to live off its past glory….

  • THA

    Saw their show in San Diego Sat Nov 29th. All the former comments echo what I saw. Tons of smoke, substandard vocals, and what I thought was lip syncing. I would have enjoyed my night better sitting home listening to old albums. Too bad, a great band that seems to live off its past glory….

  • HaBaLeS

    I went to a Sisters Concert yesterday. It was exactly the same as you described it … and now its 3 years later… very disappointing performance :-(

  • steve

    saw them in leeds last night, no change i’m afraid, waited years to see them, very poor

  • Eric

    Again, I am and have been a HUGE Sisters fan since the mid 80s. have seen them a half dozen times since and they/he have seem to have gone slightly downhill as a live act steadily ever since. (Their best show was SF 1991).

    I’m in Paris right now and they happen to be playing here tonight on a 30th Anniversary gig. I can’t believe I’d EVER say this, but I think I will pass. I wouldn’t want a another horrible gig to overshadow all the good ones.

  • Eric

    I am SO glad I didn’t listen to myself. I went to the Sisters gig last night and it was easily the best I’ve sen them. It just goes to show you never can tell…

  • Jeffrey Prior

    I saw them at the Roundhouse in Camden on Sunday and it was the worst gig I have ever been to.
    At least they are consistant!

  • wyngatecarpenter

    I remember the Rock City gig! I’m in complete agreement – me and my wife went and were both utterly bored by the end of the night and both of us have liked the Sisters for years. The vocal mix was just extracting the urine seeing as Eldritch basically is the Sisters – we pay our to here the stray Zodiac Mindwarp guitarist, that’s for sure. Based on the ratio of ticket price to gig experience undoubtedly the worst gig I’ve ever been to. The played a one off gig Leamington Spa (!) a couple of years ago which is not too far from where we live and everything I’ve heard suggests the were back on form – pity we didn’t know about it until afterwards.
    Nice to get that off my chest 5 years later though.

  • wyngatecarpenter

    Should read “we didn’t pay our money to hear the stray Zodiac Mindwarp guitarist”