BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Back in high school, I fell hard for The Mission’s Children LP. So, one day I see in the El Paso Times that Robert Plant is coming to town and the opener would be The Mission UK as they are known in the US. I promptly purchased my ticket and then found out that the show would be rescheduled because the “Tall Cool One” had taken ill. It was a few weeks later that Plant ended up playing in the UTEP special events center. So, there I was waiting for The Mission to take the stage, and probably was the only one in the crowd who knew who they were. The lights dim, and the opening act takes the stage. Soon enough they launch into “Crimson and Clover” – odd for a Mission cover, but then again, it wasn’t the Mission playing it. It was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Apparently, The Mission went on to tour elsewhere and Joan Jett was brought in as a replacement. I was absolutely devastated and slipped back in my seat and watched Joan Jett’s set and a few songs from Plant’s band and then took off. It was a real letdown.
Seeing the Mission in concert has eluded me ever since. That is until now… well, sort of. Cherry Red, those crafty purveyors of bands you almost forgot existed, have released a 5-CD boxset of the Mission performing their seminal albums over the course of 4 nights at London’s vaunted Shepherd’s Bush Empire venue. I wasn’t sure how I’d react to hearing these albums performed by the band in 2008 or some 22 years after The First Chapter hit record store shelves. Thankfully the band opted for a mostly straight reading of their musical canon instead of infusing it with a lameness that many of their later records showed (Cue Masque for proof of that). Actually, there is one terribly embarrassing moment on the Children disc where Hussey and crew turn “Tower of Strength” into a Dead Can Dance sample-infused, hokey dance number. Thankfully this going rogue tendency by Hussey is mostly kept in check.
One reason this set, save for a few egregious missteps, is so compelling is that original guitarist Simon Hinkler with his Moorish atmospherics returned to play this string of dates with the band. Each one of the shows is really well done. Wayne Hussey’s voice is in fine form and doesn’t sound as if it has aged a day. In fact, there’s a modesty about the way the band present themselves in these concerts, which lets the music shine and allows the listener to beam themselves back in time to when they first heard these songs. I also really like the fact that on the Carved in Sand disc the band decided to play several B-sides from the album’s singles like “Mr. Pleasant” and “Bird of Passage”. The fifth CD is marked as being recorded the same night as the Carved in Sand show, which means the band played 30 songs on the final night; that’s dedication for you. Hussey even managed to draft into service a few musician pals to make appearances, including Miles Hunt whose band The Wonder Stuff toured with The Mish on their Carved in Sand tour. If you’re a die-hard Mission fan this set is well worth picking up since it’s the band’s most vital music. Cherry Red also gives some heft to the boxset with some killer liner notes written by goth rock journalist Natasha Scharf. As for me, while it’s sad that I never saw them live, this boxset has proven to be the next best thing.
DOWNLOAD: “Beyond the Pale” “Heaven on Earth” “Black Mountain Mist” “Severina” “Wishing Well”