LIVE: The Sisters of Mercy, London Roundhouse 20th September 2019


The benefits of anticipating, channelling and creating the future is that when that future arrives (or fails to) then you are never out of kilter, riddled with missteps or out of tune. And so it is with the Sisters of Mercy.

‘The Sisters’, existentially extant from 1980 to the hyperstitial present-tense haven’t released any new product since 1993, a quarter of a century stand off from da capo Sister Andrew Eldritch and his unwillingness to submit to the machinations of corporate chicanery and label control. He who controls the past …

Letting his-story do the walking and stalking, Eldritch brings his troupe to London’s Roundhouse for their annual anthem airing. A superlative exhibition of smoke and mirrors, (dry) ice see you, see you not, Eldritch’s stentorian timbre trembles and tremors throughout. Each and every rendition of back catalogue bounty another bite of Marcel Proust’s madeleine from In Search of Lost Time – suppressed/repressed/oppressed memories brought back to life in the hear/hear and (k)now. Nostalgia is what it’s supposed to be.

Always resistant to the categorising limitations of genrification, Eldritch brooks no truck with the term ‘goth’; its reductive and pacifying usage at odds with his ‘vision thing’; lazy labelling produces feeble thinking. Quite.

The music remains a politically prescient and potent mix of late 60s rock ‘n realism psychedelica, 70’s slam-glam glitterbeat and the post-punk progressive idealism of 1978 – 1982 that strove to pursue better futures in spite of the bleak environs. Reaction as creation.

Employing/deploying loyal drum machine, Doktor Avalancher – an integral component in the Sisterverse and the only other surviving original member – the spectacle only serves to remind how the roots/routes of modern music started and ended here: processed, programmed beats backed by a backdrop of energetic effervescence, literate lyricism that speaks to the inner-cortex and a sonic surround-sound that stands in opposition to committee-designed crap-pap.

The hits pile in: beginning with ‘More’ and closing with a four track encore of ‘Temple of Love’; its Eastern-flecked mysticism and Western (p)ignorance ever-more contemporary in today’s politically polarised pantomimes, 1988’s Jim ‘Meat Loaf’ Steinman produced Top ten hit ‘This Corrosion’ and the ever-wondrous ‘Lucretia, my reflection’, as Eldritch observes the collapse of empire due to the ravages of war with collateral damage rife. Where could he ever have got those ideas from …?

Sandwiched in-between are 1982’s scene-setter ‘Alice’ a swirling dervish of electro-kineticism, 1990’s ‘Ribbons’ a nightmarish ode to the fine lines between lust/love, desire/ire.

Eldritch visibly cracks a smile. The lights are on and no one heads home disappointed.

Bands like the Sisters remain evocative of a period when bands adopted alternative angles that orbited (and monitored) the outside of everything. They exist as tracemarks of a pop-epoch which as Mark Fisher wrote, fertilised ‘The idea that pop could be more than a pleasant divertissement in the form of an easily consumable commodity, the idea that popular culture could play host to concepts that were difficult and demanding’. It begs the pressing (rhetorical) question of today: Where lie the antagonists of the margins in a flattened world?

You can copy aesthetics, sound, attitude, attire, atmosphere, but, ultimately you’re still a copy. (Uni)form is temporary, class is permanent.

The Sisters of Mercy: First and last and always.

Kemper Boyd