The Sisters of Mercy // Live Review // The Camden Roundhouse // London
Sisters of Mercy supported by VirginMarys Perfoming at The Camden Roundhouse
From the moment the lights dimmed through to the last howl of the encore, The Sisters of Mercy delivered a set filled with old gems, new treasures, and Gothic drama on the first of two nights at Camden Roundhouse.
Veteran frontman Andrew Eldritch growls about a “long slow carambolage” in opening banger Don’t Drive on Ice, which turns out to be prescient in a night of Gothic drama for The Sisters of Mercy.
The first surprise is the return of former Sisters guitarist Chris Catalyst, filling in for an absent Ravey Davey as Nurse to the Doktor (Avalanche) and in full cyberpunk mode with his wraparound shades. The Dok has grown up since its humble beginnings as a temperamental drum machine, its four screens taking up a whole corner of the stage and looking more like supercomputer WOTAN from Eldritch’s beloved telly show Doctor Who than mere industrial groove machinery.
In front of Catalyst towers blond haired surfer dude Dylan Smith, whose lush guitar work makes debut album crowd pleaser First and Last and Always positively shimmer. But as the set progresses, Smith is plagued by severe sound issues which worsen to the point where he leaves the stage during Temple of Love. Apparently, several birds were flipped prior to his unexpected departure, before Andrew Eldritch pointed the struggling axeman toward the exit. It’s a shame, as Smith joining the band in 2019 has since marked something of a renaissance, with a clutch of fantastic new songs being added to the set apace.
Ben Christo does all the heavy lifting tonight, either as a result of Smith’s difficulties, or in spite of them, his guitar lines slicing through the mechanised rumble like razor wire. Christo’s hair-metal backing vocals become call and response to a crowd only-too eager to sing along. Doctor Jeep chugs into a medley with Detonation Boulevard, both from the last studio album Vision Thing, and an impromptu This Corrosion goth-voice choir rattles the Roundhouse roof.
Eldritch prowls the stage, throwing shapes like a Stingray villain, his snarling baritone lurking under the swathes of guitar. He even walks the ramparts during Dominion, clearly enjoying himself and pressing the flesh with the excitable crowd at the barriers. Newer, unreleased songs make up a large part of tonight’s set and, intermingled with Sisters standards, the overall effect is of a launch party for an album that only exists right here, right now. Even the tour shirts on sale in the foyer include lyrics from songs yet to see the inside of a recording studio.
Blink and you’ll miss it — Eyes of Caligula is spiteful and brilliant, I Will Call You an earworm in the waiting, and Here deserves to be on the soundtrack to the end credits of some blockbuster dystopian movie. Aborted single release Summer makes a welcome return, the golden light show bringing the sun down inside the venue’s industrial architecture, its lush fracture perfectly balancing the light and dark aspects of the band’s sound.
Marian is more subdued than usual, but still proves itself one of the best (if not the best) songs The Sisters have recorded and the rapturous crowd response is testament to its enduring appeal. The triple threat of Lucretia, Temple of Love, and This Corrosion brings the juggernaut to a screeching halt, albeit without a rhythm guitarist. Eldritch lingers to take a bow and tells the audience that they’ve been ‘very kind’. As the crowd leaves in a tsunami of black t-shirts some are heard wishing they had a ticket for the second night, while others sound glad that they dodged the bullet. There’s no middle ground at a Sisters gig, and to be fair Eldritch’s parting words show that he knows he only just got away with this one.
The mileage on Eldritch’s hotwired sedan may vary, and the wheels damn near came off tonight, but this big machine still roared.