Monday, 30 October 2017

Will I-Beam ? - October 31st 1983

The Sisters of Mercy played their first Halloween gig on 31st October 1983, and it proved to be a memorable occasion for many different reasons. The gig was one of a pair of West Coast USA dates (the other gig which was down in LA will be covered in another post on this blog in the near future) which the band fulfilled as a three-piece, following the sudden departure of rhythm guitarist Ben Gunn at the end of the East Coast tour the previous month. Prior to flying out to California, Eldritch, Marx and Adams had played together for a one-off gig at Stockholm’s Electric Garden, a concert covered in an earlier post on this blog, as the band reverted to its core (early 1981) original live line-up.

British indie and goth bands were (and remain) incredibly popular in the Golden State (for example Depeche Mode’s “101” live album of 1988 was recorded at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl in front of an audience of 66,000 fans!), and cosmopolitan San Francisco’s I-Beam venue played host to most of the alternative bands of the era, from Siouxsie to Killing Joke , Motorhead to Big Black. Originally opening in 1977 as a gay club at 1748 Haight Street, the I-Beam had branched into live music with bands playing most Monday and Tuesday nights, and thus TSOM were booked to play at their Halloween show on Monday 31st October 1983, as part of the "Monday Night Live" series.

(the sign which hung over the doorway of the club)

The Sisters’ show at the I-Beam was fortunately recorded by an audience member and released as the bootleg LP "Tender Mercies" (with the usual missing definite article, poor artwork, mis-spellings, incorrect date etc) and ultimately circulated around the fan base, again allowing us to appreciate the starker sound of the band as a three-piece. 

The crisp recording starts with someone (the local compere judging from his accent) speaking numbers apparently randomly ("one""….”six”…”one”…"three"....."ten".....eight") into a microphone, like a manic bingo caller rather than the usual UK roadie mantra “one, two…one, t-t-t-t-two,” and the band instantly burst into set-opener “Burn”. It’s immediately clear that both Eldritch’s vocal and Adams' bass are much higher in the mix than in earlier 1983 gigs, and the subsequent “Valentine” and “Anaconda”, though a little thinner in sound than usual, retain their original power as a result. The version of the new single - announced as “This is a new song called Temple of Love” – is arguably the best of the live versions of the latter part of 1983, and is followed by a dynamic "Heartlandwith Craig’s buzzing bass to the fore over a more-intricate-than-usual backbeat, and in general the sound has more of the rougher edges which characterise most 1982 recordings. A somewhat fitful "Emma" comes next, with the Doktor misfiring slightly in the introduction and Marx getting a little carried away towards the end at the expense of the original melody, and "Adrenochrome"'s usually wonderful instrumental sections are truncated somewhat to disguise the lack of the second part, a sonic space amply filled by Adams on his trademark "Floorshow" riff which follows. After a storming “Body Electric” is played, Eldritch dedicates the next song, the set-closing ("This is the last one..") "Gimme Shelter" to American contemporaries, True West, one of the many American bands (Green On Red, Long Ryders, R.E.M etc) who were championed in the UK music press in the mid 1980's and whose praises Eldritch had sung in one of the radio interviews on the East Coast tour, and here he seems to suggest that the band had also been on the bill at one of the Sisters’ two shows at the Danceteria and that they had borrowed their equipment, although no other evidence of this has emerged. In order to find out more information, I contacted Russ Tolman, guitarist, songwriter and founder member of True West, who is still very much involved in the music business, and he was only too happy to answer my queries. "I'm delighted to hear that Andrew had nice things to say about True West," he told me. "I remember meeting him at KQAK radio in San Francisco where we were both being interviewed around the time of our show together at the I-Beam in Fall 1983. We played two shows with the Sisters: the I-Beam in San Francisco where we opened for the Sisters, and Danceteria in NYC where the Sisters opened for us. I don't recall much about the Danceteria show but I do remember the I-Beam show and vaguely remember the Gimme Shelter dedication."

As had been the case in Stockholm, the band return to play “Kiss The Carpet” as an unlikely first encore, with Eldritch prefacing the song (in response to the incessant audience member shout of "Turn it up!") with the comment “In that case we're now going to play something that you really won’t like…it could be anything, couldn’t it?!”, but the Reptile House opener gets the same rapturous reactions as previous songs before the final encore of “Alice”. Most recordings end there, but one version continues with what appears to be a bizarre fancy dress competition, with an announcer describing some of the competitors, as can be heard in this extract kindly uploaded to Soundcloud by Phil Verne all of which remained something of a mystery until a very recent interview.  

Gary Marx commented on this mini-tour in the excellent summary of 1983 published by The Quietus at the end of August 2017. “The shows were actually great with the three of us,” Marx told Mark Andrews, a fact which you can confirm for yourself by clicking on the track names above to hear the songs kindly uploaded to YouTube by Ade M for us all to enjoy. The guitarist clearly enjoyed the buzz of being solely responsible for the guitar parts, as in the earliest days, but now possessing the requisite degree of professional competence, and for me these October 1983 shows are easily a match for the much-vaunted Hussey-only gigs of late Spring 1985. “We didn’t even have guitar cases, you had a guitar in a plastic bag with your cable, fuzz box and your other cable. That’s how we landed in Los Angeles!” he recalled. Of the I-Beam show, Marx also had very clear memories of the bizarre event which can be heard going on after the show:  “We had to judge a fancy dress competition after we finished the set. There was a woman naked apart from three very small pieces of sticky tape and a great 'Jackie O' complete with butcher’s shop brains all over her jacket. Andrew had to do his game-show host bit…” Not your typical night down at the Warehouse, then, but this does explain Eldritch's clearly audible withering put-down to an audience member at the end of "Gimme Shelter" - "You look like my mother- you should get the prize" (presumably for the most ghoulish Halloween fancy dress outfit)!

One of the anglophile musicians in the Sisters’ US fan base at the time (along with Alan Vega) was Angel Corpus Christi, who last year shared this photo of herself (not sure from her outfit if she was entering the competition or not!) and Craig Adams at the venue on her Instagram account, describing it as “the nite I partied with The Sisters of Mercy at the I-Beam in San Francisco. This is bass player Craig Adams. I loved his playing, he was so in sync with Doktor Avalanche”.

The publication of the Adams photo allowed the sharp-eyed curator of The Sisters of Mercy 19801985 unofficial FB Fan Page to date precisely the picture above, another informal shot of Eldritch without shades, which had been the rounds for a number of years. ACC is clearly wearing the same outfit, with Eldritch wearing a t-shirt often seen on the autumn 1983 dates, so this was definitely also taken on the evening of the I-Beam gig.

By the time TSOM returned to California some nineteen months later, including a gig at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco on 1st June 1985, Wayne Hussey had joined but Marx had left the band, who once again appeared as a three-piece. The Halloween 1983 San Francisco show therefore marked the end of a major chapter in the band’s life, their last gig pre-Hussey and pre-WEA, the final gig of the “golden year” that began with the release of “Alice” as the breakthrough single, and ended with perfect symmetry with the same song as the final encore. It's also interesting to note that Eldritch chose to end the gig after the final encore with the same words which end the "Wake" Royal Albert Hall video of the subsequent line-up, "Thanks...(dramatic pause)...and goodbye!".

Inevitably, the original I-Beam was bulldozed and replaced by some upmarket condos with trendy shops below (as shown above), but it is still fondly remembered and there are many websites devoted to its seminal place in the SF disco scene.

My thanks as ever to all those who have helped with this post, particularly Russ Tolman for for his detailed reponse, Ade M who uploaded the entire gig a few years ago, Mark Andrews, Victoria, and of course Phil Verne of the 19801985 The Sisters Of Mercy Unofficial FB Fan Page

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