June 3, 2023
The Fillmore, Philadelphia, PA
I’m struggling to pick a tone for this entry… I’ve had a few days to reflect on this show and to quote a friend who was also there, “I have thoughts.” So I have decided, since no one really cares what I think anyway, I’m going to be brutally honest. Keep in mind, I’m only a casual fan.
I adore First and Last and Always and Floodland is a perfect album all the way through. But Vision Thing never caught my interest, and I certainly haven’t listened to any of the unreleased stuff. Is that even possible? As some others have said, this show was a checkbox for me. I’m old, but not old enough to have caught them in their prime, so this is as good as it gets.
Leading up to the show, we watched some tour footage from the 2022 M’era Luna festival. I’m not sure what Andrew Eldritch has been up to for the last 20 years, but I’m guessing it involves a lot of cigarettes. I could be wrong, but he seems to have lost 80% of his voice. I get it, he’s up there in years, but why tour now?
So, knowing full well what we were in for, we decided to make a day of it and have other things planned for our Philly outing. First stop: South Street.
I don’t visit South Street too often these days but I used to go all the time when I was younger. But it’s worth the trip if you’re in the market for piercings. Infinite Body Piercing on 4th St. is arguably the best piercing spot in the tri-state area. Their professionalism, cleanliness, and friendliness are all top notch. I needed to stop in for a check-up on some simple ear lobe and outer helix studs. Because it was a Saturday, the line was almost out the door, so I decided to kill time somewhere else and come back. Which reminds me, if you plan to go, you NEED to make an appointment for your first visit. I had to make mine two months (!) in advance.
Next stop was just a few blocks away at the DreamEerie on 623 South St. This is a newly opened shop for vintage home decor with a gothic flair. The proprietor gave us a quick tour and even let us see the workshop in the back where they reupholster sofas and such. I would describe the collection as an eclectic spooky mix of old and new. Heirloom family portraits and insect shadow boxes are framed next to classic goth band and movie posters. I even spotted a Sisters of Mercy flier. My partner and I bought a few enamel pins (5 for $35!) and took selfies standing inside their full size wood coffin.
Back to Infinite and the line was considerably shorter. It was a quick visit, just a 2-month check up and jewelry switch for my helix stud. They even squeezed in a quick re-piercing on an old hole that had closed up, without an appointment!
By this point, it was getting late so we headed north to the Fishtown neighborhood where the venue is located. A note about parking. We normally park for free in the Rivers Casino lot nearby but we were advised by the guys in DreamEerie not to take a chance. Indeed, when my partner got back to the lot, it was crawling with patrol guards looking for cars to tow. So we moved to the official Fillmore parking lot and gladly paid $20 for the piece of mind.
Before the doors opened, we chatted with a few folks outside about shows and whatnot. One couple came all the way from Pittsburgh. The guy behind us in line recognized the painting on my denim vest. Turns out he’s friends with the artist. Small world.
Once inside, we had a little time to kill before the opener, A Primitive Evolution. We had missed our chance to eat earlier, so we splurged on some overpriced burgers and sprouts, which were admittedly, not bad. Between tickets, parking, and food, this was turning out to be an expensive night. We SHOULD have spent this time claiming a spot up front near the stage, but we weren’t that emotionally invested. That was a bad choice because while the opener played, the place filled up to capacity. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen that many goths in one place. By this point, we couldn’t find anywhere to comfortably stand and have a clear view of the stage, so we settled near the back next to a roped-off VIP (?) area.
Finally around 9pm or so, the Sisters walk on stage to an eruption of applause. Frontman and only remaining founding member, Andrew Eldritch on vocals (occasionally), Ben Christo and Dylan Smith both on guitar and backing vocals, and trusty Doktor Avalanche with operator Ravey Davey on drums. They launch into their first song… and it’s completely unfamiliar to me. And so is the next song, and the next. I remember around halfway through their set, they played Marian. I found out after that they played a bunch of songs from Vision Thing and their still unreleased album. Sonically, it’s closer to plain rock than goth or post-punk, so it wasn’t my favorite. But I can see why serious fans might appreciate it.
More and more time passes and they don’t play ANYTHING from their most popular album Floodland and we get progressively more annoyed. At one point, Andrews says, “you’re not going to like this one.” What does that mean??
While my annoyance grew, I also noticed Andrew’s voice. Or rather, a lack thereof. The vocals would dip in and out, sometimes being replaced with incomprehensible growls or gibberish. Half the time the vocals were filled in by Ben and Dylan.
Here’s something interesting I heard after the show from a friend with a closer vantage. He thinks Andrew was using some kind of pre-programmed vocal assistance called a noise gate with a backing track. Not quite lip syncing, but along those lines. This would explain the inconsistencies and random noises. I bet Andrew got a kick seeing how far he could push it without actually singing.
Aside from the vocals, the other thing that was missing was bass. This really confused me. Apparently, Ben Christo plays bass but didn’t bother to switch from guitar at any point in the show. It would have been especially appreciated on certain bass heavy songs.
Nearing the end of their set, Andrew and company blessed the audience with two popular tracks from Floodland, Lucretia My Reflection and This Corrosion. Again, the lack of bass was glaring on Lucretia. But in spite of that, they sounded decent. After This Corrosion, they took a long bow and walked off stage. Don’t hold your breath for an encore.
It’s hard to describe our emotions at this point of the night. I’m not used to being annoyed by a show, but that’s kinda how it felt at the time. We knew what we were getting into and we still felt a bit let down. We checked in with our friends who's opinions ran the spectrum from “great” to “questionable.” I'd like to think the true fans had a good time, but we should have known better than to expect a string of classic hits.
Luckily for us, this would not be the end of our night. Local DJ and event promotor, “Mighty” Mike Saga put together an unofficial Sisters of Mercy after party right next door at Brooklyn Bowl for FREE. Not surprisingly, the smaller venue quickly filled up, so we hung outside and caught up with friends. Back at the car, we chatted with two older gentlemen that parked next to us. One of them was a longtime fan who saw the Sisters in Philly back when Andrew still had hair, during their Vision Thing era. He told us an interesting story about meeting Andrew after a show. Apparently Andrew’s natural demeanor scared him but he couldn't explain why. I’m sure he was wearing his signature aviators (at night) but to his credit, he told us Andrew was cordial and signed everything. I guess he’s just a very private guy which I can respect.
We eventually got into the afterparty. The spot between the bar and the bowling lanes was completely packed with dancers. Luckily there was a very comfy seating area with couches right next to the dance floor where we could sit and reflect on the show. Mike Saga and fellow DJ Erik “Panzermesch” kept the energy going with their signature mix of old skool industrial, goth club hit mashups (Personal Jesus vs Shout), and plenty of EBM. Fittingly, Mike ended the night with This Corrosion which sounded better than the live version in my opinion.
In the days following, someone posted a full set video of the Philly show which is much closer than any of my footage. I also heard through the grapevine that people at other shows had similar experiences. This somewhat scathing post on r/Sistersof Mercy sums it up nicely.
So that’s it. I hope this entry didn’t offend or piss anyone off. I’ll say it again, I’m a casual fan at most. I imagine true Sisters fans enjoyed the show, maybe even loved it. I’m only here to provide my honest impression and let fellow concert goers know what they’re getting into if they plan to see him in the near future.
I want to add that it was a bummer seeing Andrew perform this way. His early music is so iconic and foundational to the scene. Just two months ago we saw Skinny Puppy on their final tour absolutely kill it. Ministry and Gary Numan sounded just as incredible. The fact that Andrew Eldritch thought nothing of charging his fans $64 a ticket to half-ass it night after night in front of sold out shows is, quite frankly, insulting. Like I said earlier, this show was a check-box. But to his credit, I got a good story out of it as well as a deeper appreciation for good live music.
post script: Exactly one week after the show, we picked up a Sisters of Mercy record store day exclusive The Reptile House e.p. So no hard feelings Andy.