Last time I saw Sisters of Mercy was nearly 15 years ago, as a yong goth chick worshipping at the altar of singer Andrew Eldritch. They’d filled my youth with odes to unrequited love and transcendental one-night stands, and I’m still grateful for how Eldritch’s lyrics even shaped my own writing. But March 6 at Webster Hall was unbelievably awful, a sort of “name that tune” beneath heavy distortion and smoke machines (“Holy shit! Did they just play ‘Anaconda’?”), with the only-man-that-mattered Eldritch crooning lyrics like faking orgasms, mouthing words that meant the world to him 20 years ago but resonated now like mindless feedback to a man nearing 50.
For over two decades Andrew Eldritch has been a big fish in a small pond, forever yearning to move beyond the goth scene (see “touring with Public Enemy”). His playful irony has always hinged on a nasty bitterness, manifesting ultimately in an unparalleled condescension to and disdain for fans. So the cheering for encores at the end of his phoned-in set seemed more a reflection of the sadomasochistic relationship between the singer and his slavish fans than an expression of their adulation. (I couldn’t help but think a round of raucous booing might have earned the audience just enough respect in Eldritch’s eyes to merit the soul-bearing brilliance of a song like “Nine While Nine”.)
Still, one club kid, all eyeliner and black lipstick, hit the nail on the head when she shrugged, “Yeah, but you don’t come for the show.” Duh! Reunion tours are a way for the audience to reconnect with its past, with the community that “raised” you. It really wasn’t about the Sisters of Mercy, or about no one recognizing “On The Wire” until the chorus. It was about leafing through memories like old photo books, viewing a moment in time from a lifetime away. Resurrecting the past to make it sound relevant and new was an exercise in futility, akin to remaking “Temple of Love” over and over again. Unfortunately, Andrew Eldritch learned long ago how to exploit “for fun and profit” this universal need for a touchstone.