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.