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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Jesus, Mary Chain Makes Claim to Its Underground Destiny

After the initial 15 minutes of media controversy (riots! feedback! 15-minute sets! bad attitudes!), Scotland’s Jesus and Mary Chain seemed to have lost some of its initial steam. The group’s second album, “Darklands,” eschewed a lot of the guitar noise that made the band infamous, while its latest release, “Barbed Wire Kisses,” is primarily a collection of English B-sides and obscure cover versions instead of new material. The band’s last show in town, using drum tapes, was spotty at best.

But irony plays a big hand in the erratic career of the Mary Chain, which turned in possibly its best local appearence yet Wednesday night at the John Anson Ford Theatre. Now a quintet with the addition of a drummer and extra guitarist, the group--led by vocalist Jim Reid and his brother, guitarist William--is still thorny but accessible. Wednesday the Mary Chain’s occasionally sloppy set bordered on self-indulgence; but then self-absorption is one of the group’s themes.

The subterranean shadow-rock often resembled a fall down a tunnel of post-teen trauma, yet, at the same time, pieces like “April Skies” and “Just Like Honey” were filled with an uplifting sense of a dark, romantic vision. At times the songs carried traces of the Velvet Underground, Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, early Iggy & The Stooges, even the crude white boy R & B of early Rolling Stones and, of course, the beautiful post-punk despair of Joy Division.

It’s to the band’s credit that it can reinvent these sounds, giving them fresh immediacy for younger fans who might not know, for example, that the group’s creaky, moody “Who Do You Love” was originally a Bo Diddley song. At a time when so much rock music falls into predictable, homogenized formats, the Jesus and Mary Chain is ready to claim its rightful destiny as one of the most important underground acts of this decade. The group plays the Whisky on Tuesday.

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