The Sisters of Mercy have been musical legends for thirty years – or rather Andrew Eldritch and his ever-changing motley crew of disgruntled band mates have been. Over half a decade (1985 to 1990), Eldritch and above mentioned crew released three exceptional studio albums that provided the world with a satisfying slice of quintessential eighties rock-pop.
And the Sisters are still announcing headline shows and being added to festival line-ups despite the fact they have not released new material for over twenty years. Twenty years! Technically they are not even the Sisters anymore, just Andrew Eldritch, live musicians and a drum machine. So how do they do it? Well, not only because of the fantastic quality of their material, but by the sheer enigmatic force of their live performances.
“No filming or photography, at the band’s request.”
Sisters of Mercy: making a journalist’s job a hard one since 1977.
Support band Black Moth from Leeds are all you would expect: battering through compositions that are as damningly heavy as they are simple, like a female-fronted Black Sabbath. They warm up the crowd and appear to have tons of fun as they do so. Frontwoman Harriet Bevan gushes her thanks to the crowd and the Sisters as she and her band mates provide some energy and youth to a genre that is dangerously verging on becoming stagnant.
Billowing smoke and lights of every colour marks the Sisters’ arrival. Before them the sea of their black-clad admirers cheer and applaud as they dive straight into ‘Lucretia My Reflection’; an odd choice for a first song but an obvious fan favourite, noticeably lacking its defining bass line. Eldritch emerges after Ben Christo and Chris Catalyst, clad in what appears to be an ugly boiler suit and aviator shades clamped to his stern face. Despite his inherent…oddness, Eldritch is charismatic – undeniably so. Tonight, however, he is elusive, hiding behind the smoke and lurking in shadows, appearing only to sing and stare, and even then he stalks the stages, restless. His voice seems unchanged from the studio recordings of the 1980s, his trademark atonal drone remains, but his technique is now punctuated with bizarre croaks, hiccups, shouts and anguished screams that blend remarkably well.
The classics have been changed from the original recordings for the live setting. ‘Dominion/Mother Russia’ is a parody of itself. The female vocals from the album are replaced by Christo’s efforts, almost re-casting the song as a mediocre cover by a tribute act instead of a live rendition by the original artist. Ditto for ‘Temple of Love.’
“I shouldn’t still have to be singing this,” Eldritch remarks at one point, much to the amusement of the audience, most of whom have aged with him.
They fire through old favourites (‘Body Electric’, ‘Alice’ and ‘First and Last and Always’), long-forgotten Sisterhood tracks (‘Jihad’) and even a cover of Larry Wallis’s ‘Police Car’, song after song without stopping for breath. The final note of ‘Temple of Love’ cues the stage to darken and the band to disappear into the lingering smoke.
Cheers for an encore gives cause for the band to return twice. The highlight of the night arrives in the form of ‘1959’, that underrated cryptic piano ballad found somewhere in the middle of the ‘Floodland’ album. Eldritch’s vocals are wistful, quiet yet dramatic, and the subdued atmosphere is incredible. ‘Flood II’ proves to be similarly delivered, the whispers of lyrics somewhat lost to the music but just as powerful.
Eldritch pauses to sharply reprimand a member of the audience, apparently snapping pictures from the front row. Meanwhile Ben Christo beams and churns out riff after riff for another crowd favourite ‘More’ while Chris Catalyst does the same, remaining impassive behind massive shades and staring down the unexpected mosh pit.
Any Sisters fan could have called ‘This Corrosion’ as the final song. A bittersweet finale to an epic set and an anthem if there ever was one, it conjures the crowd to dance and sway like it is 1987 all over again and in the heat of the moment, as the Sisters disappear into the fog for the last time, I think everyone wishes it was.