Friday, November 14, 2008

This Is Goth Spinal Tap

The Sisters of Mercy
13 November 2008: House of Blues, Cleveland, Ohio

My concert-going experiences with Jeff generally tend to be somewhat hit-or-miss. Until now, one of my worst concert episodes was the night Jeff, his wife, and I went to see Bob Mould at the Grog Shop a few years ago. Kristin Hersh, former lead singer of Throwing Muses, opened for him, and she was horrible. Not only was her acoustic set hard to listen to, her facial expressions and complete lack of rapport with the crowd was painful to watch. Her performance was followed by a nearly interminable wait between acts. When Mould finally took the stage, he ended up playing "Wishing Well" and "See a Little Light" just a few songs into the set, and so we left. On the other hand, seeing Erasure last year was one of the most fun shows I have ever witnessed, and that was with Jeff, his wife, and my wife. Like I said, hit-or-miss. Fast-forward to Thursday night, and the opportunity to cross The Sisters of Mercy off the "'80s Alternative Bands from Our Youth We've Never Seen Live" list.

I knew something was up when we walked into the lobby of the House of Blues and there was more staff manning the doors, box office, security, merchandise table, and ticket scanners than customers waiting to get in. A glace at the merch table for curiosity's sake revealed $20 knit hats, $30 t-shirts, and $45 hoodies. Really? I mean, this is a group that hasn't put out an album of all new material in nearly 20 years.

So we head inside the concert hall, and again we know something is wrong. Hypernova, the opening act, is on-stage, but the house is far from full. Hell, the house is far from half-full. We decide to head to the lower level first to see what's going on in General Admission and listen to Hypernova a bit. This Iranian quartet sounded great. Jeff turned to me after the first song completed and said, "Man, that could be a hit once upon a time." They have a great sound, and their lead singer's baritone falls somewhere between Peter Murphy and Julian Cope. Good stuff.

After some beer, we headed to the balcony and our seats. The upstairs was a ghost town and things were not boding well for us. We take our seats and wait for Andrew Eldritch, the singular force behind the band for 28 years, and whatever group of musicians he's cobbled together under the Sisters of Mercy banner for this go-round. When I saw the roadies testing the fog machines on stage, combined with the crowd turnout, I realized this concert had Spinal Tap potential. No sooner had I shared this thought with Jeff and the fog machines began pumping in earnest, and the show began.

There was some guy with a Mohawk and sunglasses playing guitar in the haze on one side, and another guitarist opposite him on stage. Then out came Eldritch. It was totally disconcerting to see this former black-haired Goth shaved bald on top, but that was the least of our concerns after a few moments. You see, his vocals were buried in the mix. You couldn't hear him at all! So you had to wait for the Mohawk-bedecked guitarist to come in out of sync on the chorus to figure out what song they were playing. We did eventually recognize "Detonation Boulevard", "Flood I", "Dominion/Mother Russia", and "This Corrosion". Of course, "This Corrosion", an epic song that clocks in at nearly 11 minutes on the Floodland album, couldn't have been longer than three or four minutes live. And played near the mid-point of the set. Wouldn't you expect this to be stretched to a 15 minute sing-along rocker to bring the house down in an encore?! Apparently that would be far too predictable for Mr. Eldritch, and instead he went with the radio edit.

At one point, Jeff wandered downstairs to see if the audio was any better there (it wasn't), and saw the set list taped up next to the soundboard. There were a lot of songs on that list, but "More" wasn't one of them. The Sisters of Mercy song that sat atop the Billboard Magazine Modern Rock Tracks chart for five weeks in 1990. And they didn't even consider playing it. Seriously.

By the time Jeff returned upstairs to our seats, the house lights had come up. Now, the show was not over, in fact they'd only been playing for about a half-hour at this point. But the fog being spewed from the stage was so thick that there were times you couldn't see the performers at all, and that smoke was billowing out into the crowd to the point where it was hard to see much of anything. Shortly after that, the smoke detector strobe light alarms began pulsating throughout the concert hall, and continued for the rest of the show.

At this point, Jeff and I had had enough and gave up on the concert mid-set. We knew from the set list we'd seen that we were walking out on "Lucretia My Reflection", "Flood II", "Vision Thing" and others, but it just wasn't worth it at that point. On the way out, I saw Raam, the lead singer of Hypernova, manning the merchandise table in the lobby. So I went over and shook his hand and told him how much I enjoyed their set and wished them well. Nice guy. Good music. That was all I was looking for.
Instead I ended up with another inauspicious entry in Adam & Jeff's '80s Alternative Rewind Adventure.

We ended up down the block at Cadillac Ranch for more beer and watched the fourth quarter of the Cavs win over Dallas. The bar was hopping. There were probably more people in that establishment than there were down the street for the Sisters of Mercy show even before the post-game revelers started pouring into the bar in droves. Nice way to end the night, but man, can I get my money back, Mr. Eldritch?