Three decades ago, few things were as startling as “Psychocandy,” the white-noise-meets-Beach-Boys debut disc from Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid – vocalist and guitarist, respectively, for The Jesus and Mary Chain.
That is, except their equally-jaw-dropping 1985 concerts, like their first San Francisco appearance at the I-Beam, when they performed a dissonant 20-minute set with their backs turned to crowd members, many of which demanded a refund afterwards.
Now, as the band revisits The City this weekend on a 30th-anniversary tour for the album, Jim Reid wants to set the record straight.
“The thing that people don’t understand is that we were very awkward people, and not very confident,” says Reid, phoning from the rustic seaside English town where he resides, while his two sons, 7 and 11, play loudly in the next room.
“I particularly felt extremely, extremely shy, being onstage as a frontman – I had a lot of trouble coming to terms with that.” As he recalls, he and his sibling literally flipped a coin to decide. “To see who wouldn’t be the singer, and I lost the toss. And then I find myself doing a tour of America, and it was just overwhelming.”
For that legendary I-Beam gig, Reid emphasized survival over looking cool. He wanted to perform as wildly as Iggy Pop, but he couldn’t manage it. Instead, he had the stage spotlights dimmed to a dull glow so he could hide in the shadows, not making eye contact with expectant fans. Booze – lots of backstage booze – helped.
“People thought I was really sullen, but that’s not what was happening,” he says. “I loved the idea of being in a band. But in practice, it was utterly terrifying. So we’d get really drunk and stumble about the stage, thinking, ‘Well, this will have to do.’”
While the JAMC made two more back-to-back stunners – 1987’s gorgeously-hushed “Darklands” and the riff-rocking “Automatic” in 1989 – it was “Psychocandy” that set the sonic bar remarkably high, with the lugubrious “Just Like Honey” and “Taste of Cindy” revving up into the feedback stratosphere of “Never Understand” and “The Living End.”
Where did the sound originate? At the time, the Reids were living in East Kilbride, and listening to Joy Division, The Sex Pistols and The Velvet Underground.
“You digest all the music that’s coming at you, or it filters through you,” says Reid, who will soon record a new JAMC effort. “If you’re any good, you’ll reinvent that music into something kind of unique. That’s what rock and roll is – a recycled art form. And it’s more successful when you try and emulate your heroes, but get it wrong.”
IF YOU GO
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Where: Warfield, 982 Market St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. May 16-17
Tickets: $35 to $45
Contact: (888) 929-7849, www.axs.com