If you’ll bear with me, gentle reader, I’d like to preface my review with a little context. In 1988, I read a single-paragraph album review of The Mission U.K.’s Children, published, I think, in Rolling Stone. I don’t recall the details of the review, except that it was reasonably positive and made particular note of the album’s having been produced by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. But something in it intrigued me enough that I went out and bought the cassette of the album at the next available opportunity.
Especially given the album’s Zeppelin connection, I think I’d been expecting some straight-forward hard-charging rock-and-roll. Children begins rather mysteriously, with the sounds of children playing on a playground and a haunting violin-like melody. We hear the faraway sounds of a rock song being played as if from a passing car radio (I would later learn to recognize the song as The Mission’s own “Serpent’s Kiss”), and then that fades out to a shimmering electric guitar line. And then that first track, “Beyond the Pale,” explodes into hard-charging rock-and-roll.
It’s hard for me to imagine now that that was my first exposure to gothic rock. And it probably wasn’t the very first – surely someone must have played me some Bauhaus or something at some earlier point. (And yes, I’m also well aware that at various points in their career the Mission have resisted, transcended, or betrayed – depending on how you look at it – the label of “gothic rock”. But that’s true of every truly great gothic rock band.) At any rate, The Mission were one of the bands that made me the music listener I am today.
And I always regretted never having had the chance to see them live. So much so, that when the band unexpectedly reunited in 2011 for a 25th anniversary show, I strongly considered flying to London just to see them. (Well, I would have seen them and Fields of the Nephilim into the bargain.)
All this is by way of conveying that when I turned up at the Regency Ballroom on Friday night to see The Mission, it was with a greater amount of excitement and anticipation that usual. And a bit of anxiety as well – can any band, no matter how good, live up to 25 years of anticipation?
Well, the first auspicious sign of the night was that we arrived early enough to grab a spot in the front row. Front row! At The Mission!
The next good omen was provided by the opening act, The Wax Idols, who offered up a rawer and more energetic flavor of post-punk than my brief browsing of their recordings on Spotify had led me to expect. The Wax Idols seem to get compared to Siouxsie and The Banshees a lot, which I suppose is natural for goth-inflected post-punk with a female vocalist. I thought I caught hints of Love and Rockets and perhaps just a touch of My Bloody Valentine. They rocked the house that night. Singer/guitarist Hether Fortune projects all the charisma and swagger of your iconic front-man of choice, and does it while wearing heels and a black dress. Eat your heart out, boys. Over the course of the first few songs, you could palpably see the vibe of the crowd shift from, “Eh, who’s this?” to “Oh my god, who is this?!” They made a lot of new fans in the course of a brisk 7 or 8 song set. Even better, they’re local. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.
And then there was the usual flurry of moving equipment around. And then The Mission came onstage and began their set with “Beyond the Pale,” the song that started it all those years ago.
Perhaps because it was Friday the 13th, the set was plagued by a number of technical glitches: Wayne wasn’t getting any sound out of his monitors for a good chunk of the set; they kept getting feedback on the guitars during one song; Wayne broke a string on his twelve-string guitar; and in what was surely the icing on the cake, Simon’s amplifier stopped working entirely in the middle of “Wasteland” (of all songs!) and long-suffering crew member Joe had to come out and replace it mid-song. (The band were kind enough to introduce Joe to the audience and invite him to the microphone to tell a rather terrible joke. Poor guy – I think he must have had a rough evening sorting out all those gremlins.) To The Mission’s credit, they didn’t let any of these glitches halt the show, or even allow their undoubted annoyance to dampen the mood.
Glitches aside, the band sounded great, and the set was a good balance between older hits and material from the new album, The Brightest Light. “Beyond the Pale” was a highlight for me, as was a particularly rousing version of “Severina”. “Butterfly on a Wheel” is a song that I’m a bit lukewarm about in the studio version, but is wonderful live, because the entire audience sing along on the choruses. The new material also went over very well – I’d been a bit afraid that it would seem out of place next to the older stuff, but the set felt seamless. From the new album, they played “Sometimes the Brightest Light Comes from the Darkest Place”, “Black Cat Bone”, “Swan Song”, and at least one other song whose title I’m not sure of.
After finishing the main set, they came back for an encore that included a cover of “All Along the Watchtower”, Wayne leading the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to audience member Lynn, whose birthday is September 13, and a triumphant rendition of “Deliverance”. Then they went off stage again, but no one in the audience moved. We all know the rules: no one goes home until we hear “Tower of Strength”. So they came back out and played an exuberant “Tower of Strength” and I sang my little heart out on the choruses like I’ve waited twenty five years to do. And it was good.
So, hey, guys – how about in a couple of years you do another new album, and we can do all this again?
The full Flickr set of my photos from the show is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wshaffer/sets/72157635517066086/