Live: Goth Fans Cry Out For Sisters of Mercy

Band unveils new dark, yet catchy material at opening night of its mini-North American tour.

NEW YORK -- Don't mention the word goth to Sisters of Mercy leader Andrew Eldritch.

Just the thought of becoming known as a classic goth act seems to upset the singer these days. He's even taken to loud print shirts and platinum-colored short hair as was evidenced a week ago Friday at the band's opener of its mini-tour at the Roseland Ballroom here.

Yup, there's no question that Eldritch is trying to run away from that dark goth image.

Last year, he got into a snit when a Philadelphia promoter tried to put three goth bands on ahead of the Sisters at the Dark Harvest Festival -- it wasn't the way they sounded, it was the way they looked. Too much Cure-styled Robert Smith hair. Still, compared to the Cure's 1997 Halloween show here, this was only mild goth. This was black jeans and T-shirt night, but only one in 10 Roselanders went the extra mile with the full-out straight black hair, white-face and dark lipstick and eyeshadow.

They sat alone on the strip of benches along the left wall. That's where they stayed, away from the pushing and shoving on the ballroom floor.

Among those fans who hung closer to the floor was Michael Vario, who was busy sinking into a cover version of a popular Pink Floyd tune from the double-album, The Wall. "I heard they played 'Comfortably Numb' last summer in Philly," he said. "So I knew they had been doing it." The crowd helped out for the chorus of "This Corrosion," following Eldritch's every syllable of "Hey now, hey now, now, sing this corrosion to me."

But for some fans, it wasn't enough to take the music and the memories with them. One crazed groupie actually snuck away with Eldritch's half-smoked cigarette. "[The female groupie] waved it around in front of us," said Morella, hostess of public access TV's "Vampyre Dreams," who was attending her first live show in 10 years. "We got it all on videotape."

But fan enthusiasm is understandable. Last time the Sisters of Mercy played here was in 1990 at Radio City Music Hall with rap pioneers Public Enemy as their opener. During the Sisters of Mercy drought, fans clung to their Sisters of Mercy tapes and CDs, many believing that they'd never get to see them play live again. This is one of those bands with a small but dedicated following from a decade ago -- people who'll travel five or 10 hours for a Sisters gig.

Besides a show last summer in Philadelphia, that's about all these black-clad '80s English rockers had given their North American fans before this.

Onstage, Eldritch seemed more subdued and thinner than usual, allowing his vocals to disappear into the house mix on tunes such as "On The Wire." But his voice rang through loud and clear on gothic torch songs such as "This Corrosion" and "Dominion/Mother Russia." Morella said she especially liked the old songs, the ones she knew from her tapes, at least, such as "Ribbons," "Detonation Boulevard," "Something Fast" and "Flood II."

And she liked the new songs, too. Though record label hassles have prevented a new Sisters release for nearly five years, numerous bootlegs and passed-around tapes have let fans keep the faith all these years. Elizabat, who preferred not to give her last name, counted six new tunes on the playlist that she snatched from the stage floor after the show. "The new stuff is very reminiscent of the older stuff," she said.

In fact, whether or not Eldritch likes it, the songs have that classic goth feel about them, that slow but haunting beat from the drum machine and the singer's cryptic lyrics hanging low in the mix. Tunes such as "Summer" and "Romeo Down" drone on, while others -- including "War on Drugs" -- are positively catchy in a goth sort of way.

The massive, floating guitar licks turned in by Adam Pearson during crowd-pleasers such as "Dominion/Mother Russia," were reminiscent of Pink Floyd axeman David Gilmour circa 1981. Dry-ice fog bellowing around guitarist Mike Varjak on the other side of the dark stage and Eldritch screaming added to the nostalgia. But it never got loud, certainly not to the ear-splitting volumes turned in by lots of bands that play Roseland. Everything for Sisters was miniaturized, from the low-hung lighting scaffolds in the back to the modest stacks of amps on the sides. And it never got rowdy. No stage-diving or body-surfing the whole night.

Maybe these goths slam-danced last time Sisters were in town, but now they just sway and sing along. [Sat., Feb. 7, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]