Think Blur had it bad at Coachella? The Jesus And Mary Chain may as well have been the Spice Girls so far as Roadburn is concerned

They might be alternative icons, but The Jesus And Mary Chain prove a bit too mainstream for Roadburn Festival

Jesus And Mary Chain Live Roadburn
(Image: © Niels Vinck)

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It’s not often The Jesus And Mary Chain can claim to be the most commercial band on a festival line-up. But amidst the squalling sludge-noise of Couch Slut, the punishing low-end of Khanate and cosmic death metal of Blood Incantation, the Glaswegians may as well be the Spice Girls.  

Or so seems to be the sentiment at Roadburn Festival 2024, the Scottish group greeted by a half-empty Main Stage on Sunday evening. But any tangible disappointment is indecipherable from the pervasive air of disaffected indie cool that hangs around the band during their first few songs, the likes of Jamcod, Happy When it Rains and Head On delivered with a Lou Reed-like disaffected energy that instead comes off as lethargic. 

Thankfully, it doesn't last. By All Things Must Pass the band start to strike onto a groove that they ride for the rest of the gig, offering darkness-laced pop hooks amidst bass-driven, post-punk inflected rockers. While on the Roadburn bill they might be seen as 'mainstream' it's worth remembering that their cardinal sin of chart success never came at the cost of their art, songs like Just Like Honey, Darklands and Reverence instead forcing the pop world to take notice with impossible-to-ignore hooks and excellent song craft. 

It's hardly like the band are going full Top Of The Pops with their setlist choices, either. While The Jesus And Mary Chain embrace some of the singles in their back catalogue, obvious choices are ignored and plenty of room is afforded to new album Glasgow Eyes, the luscious electronic elements and blanket-of-melancholy melodies of songs like Chemical Animal a kindred spirit to the spellbinding atmosphere of Chelsea Wolfe earlier in the weekend. 

Granted, the more straight-ahead rock easter eggs of The Eagles And The Beatles are unfortunately liable to fall on deaf ears at a festival where a death metal band can pack out the biggest stage playing ambient music that comes off like a mix of Vangelis-style 70s prog and the PlayStation start-up tone, but the hooks of songs like Some Candy Talking, Blues From A Gun and I Love Rock'n'Roll ultimately prove irresistible.

Those that remain are treated to an ultimately triumphant experience as TJAMC grow ever-more experimental, swiveling coloured lights adding a heightened sense of surreality to the noise pop, punky jangle of In A Hole or the serpentine strut of Sidewalking, a dancefloor-filler just about anywhere else on the planet. But Roadburn is a particular creature, and even as the festival has expanded beyond its metal roots to embrace hip hop, electronica and experimental music, it seems some bridges are still too far to cross for now. 

Closing on a Stone Roses like extended instrumental build-up for Reverence - albeit if the Roses had gotten bang into Hawkwind instead of ecstasy - Jim Reid offers disarmingly sincere thanks to the audience for sticking around. "We had fun, we hope you did too," he says, and  there's the sense that while The Jesus And Mary Chain are still perennial outsiders, their music is still adored and appreciated by those that need it most.   

Glasgow Eyes is out now via Fuzz Club. 

The Jesus And Mary Chain Setlist Tilburg April 21 2024 (Roadburn Festival)

Happy When It Rains
Head On
All Things Must Pass
Chemical Animal
The Eagles And The Beatles
Some Candy Talking
In A Hole
Pure Poor
Blues From A Gun
Venal Joy
I Love Rock 'N' Roll
Just Like Honey
Taste Of Cindy
I Hate Rock 'N' Roll

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.