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Smoke and Mirrors


4am. Monday 28th April 2003. Definite lightening of the sky as dawn approaches, and the black monolith of the Pudsey Asda becomes silhouetted against a grey, eastern sky. Leeds, again, always Leeds. The only other visible lights are distant orange glows dotted around the horizon; burning cars on the Kirkstall Lane, probably.

Eldritch sucks on a cigarette, but is silent, and I reflect on the different qualities of light that I have seen on tour: the red neon reflecting off the water in Amsterdam canals ("SEX" is almost the same upside-down), the snowflakes skidding across the pavements outside the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the yellow-brown of English pubs in the afternoon. And the primary colours of the Sisters' stage set: the blue and red and green fogs that obscure the band throughout the sensory overload of a Sisters' gig. Those senses, what a battering they take: the staggering wall-of-noise, the smell of the smoke, the proximity of the crowd (and the bruises and tinnitus the morning after). Only the taste buds escape tour fatigue .

In Amsterdam he says, "I don't really notice time passing". Yes, the world hum fades on tour, and removed from the newspapers, the web and TV, time becomes more cyclical. The locations (the colours) change, but the routine is much the same from day to day. There is no structure on a larger scale. The overnight bus ride, the soundcheck, the gig, the snatches of sleep when you can. The roads are all the same, the dressing rooms are all the same, the fatigue is the same; the rock star's Groundhog Day.

 

I heard The Star Spangled Banner in Berlin. The American Embassy was cordoned off and someone had placed a sign there, "YOU ARE LEAVING THE CIVILISED SECTOR". Is this a war we're fighting? Where are the new Berlin Walls? Is there one between the stage and the front row? (And which side of that barrier is the civilised sector?) Between me and Rumsfeld? Between all of us at the Columbiahalle and the American Embassy?

Eldritch sings, "I have slept with all the girls in Berlin". You strain to hear the new songs. The lyrics in the verse are inaudible from the crowd. Chris plays 12-string acoustic. Adam plays arpeggios rather than chords. Doktor Avalanche puts up a wall-of-noise as thick as the smoke and although it's deafening, it's as difficult to hear the people on stage as it is to see them. The Sisters are loud, but paradoxically, hard to hear; 'your lips move, but I can't hear what you say'.

When it comes to Sisters gigs, I'm not sure I know what the difference between "good" and "enjoyable" is anymore. I'm not too worried about technical crap like whether the guitarist played every note right, or even whether the singer was in tune. But do the Sisters continue to have a broader cultural impact? Does that sound still say something that resonates with our everyday experience? The dimensions of a Sisters performance are painted in broader strokes; primarily, it's all about power and intensity. Too much so, perhaps. You can't really say that the Sisters live have much of a range of emotions. On this tour only Marian has really moved me. You don't leave a Sisters gig overcome with heightened awareness of the human condition (unless you've overdone it in the pub beforehand), but you do leave with a grin on your face.

A random girl at a random gig somewhere said, "I first took E to Orbital. Been chasing that same buzz ever since." Well, yeah, aren't we all? Trouble is, Sisters gigs are the buzz for me and when the tour's over there's a sense of something missing.

April was the coolest month.

This tour was damn good.

Have we finished now? Is this the end? Now can I switch this bloody computer off?

Chris Sampson, May 2003


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Photo: Adam Pearson, Stuttgart 12 April 2003 by Sven Togni