Live Report - My Bloody Valentine
Posted on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 | No Comments
There's not many bands where people might walk out after the gig's ended, compaining that they can still hear, right?
Well, this is where My Bloody Valentine stand in 2013. With their lengthy absence having meant that their still overdriven but more dreamy studio output was the only side of the story any new listeners past 1992 had been given, the band's comeback tour in 2008/9 became infamous for its sonic barrage. Stories abounded of the health-and-safety mandated earplugs given out at each concert, of people leaving their concerts of the health-and-safety mandated earplugs given out awith bleeding ears and noses, of the titanic wall of noise in You Made Me Realise that closed their sets, an exercise in sensory overload that sometimes lasted up to half an hour: it wasn't dubbed 'the holocaust' by the fans for nothing. From the arms of bedsit lovers, My Bloody Valentine became a byword for mind-crushing volume and aural excess.
But this is now 2013. The Loveless era which started in 1991 is finally over, with (really, really) long-awaited third album m b v arriving earlier this year (which, it turned out, was actually worth the wait). Instead of a Pixies-style endless cash-in, they now return to the live arena to further their legacy rather than exhume it. So how has this new lease of life affected the band?
In all honesty, the live set remains largely familiar to anyone who caught their reunion tour. Material from Loveless and the You Made Me Realise EP dominates (alongside three tracks from Isn't Anything and the superb Honey Power from the Tremelo EP, a welcome addition to the set), and while the visuals running throughout the show might have changed to a more overtly psychedelic aesthetic, the overall style of presentation remains identical. The shock of the new may be lacking, but then again, the astonishing sonic roar of Soon's seemingly endless glide, the genuine how-the-hell-does-he-get-his-guitar-to-do-that showcase To Here Knows When or the demented rock of You Never Should remains utterly transcendent, and the muscle of the full four-piece band adds significant force and muscle compared to the more layered, intricate puzzles of the My Bloody Valentine studio sound.
What changes there were though were still mightly impressive. Perhaps aware of their reputation for unforgiving volume, the sound this time round was largely slightly quieter - still loud enough to get that physicial force unique to their concerts, but certainly less intimidating and punishing. You Made Me Realise, always the most intense part of the show, has undergone a pruning too, slimmed down to a still formidable ten minutes. It still makes for a gig experience unlike any other, its visceral presence riding a knife-edge balance between pleasure and terror that makes for an almightly endorphin rush, but instead of the peaks and throughs of ecstasy and agony of 2008's extended run-throughs, this time the band compress the experience down. After the onslaught of their previous tour, maybe the band considered that the point had already been made.
More signifiantly, there is - finally! - new material in the My Bloody Valentine songbook. Both dispatched fairly early on, two of the most upbeat tracks from m b v get an airing: New You's pop bounce showcases the band's jackhammer rhythm section of Debbie Goodge and Colm O'Ciosoig, while Only Tomorrow is a definite set-highlight, the combination of Billinda Butcher's sweet vocals and some of Kevin Shields's greatest guitar work to date making for an intoxicating high.
The stand-out though is their new set closer (and surprise inclusion) Wonder 2. Appearing after previous set-closer You Made Me Realise has stunned the audience, Wonder 2 live carries on the tidal wave of noise, as a crazed drum'n'bass beat cascades around the room and all four members pick up six strings to weave the intricate web of Fripp guitars that leads the piece into the light. For one of the most pioneering guitar bands of all time, it's a fitting and downright beautfiul sight to have all four of them ending the show in a line, continuing to pilot the instrument to new lands. It's a brave but astonishing move, one that ends the show on a note of forward momentum and experimentation fit for a band that, for the first time in two decades, is fully active once more. From holocaust to post-holocaust, it gives their set a new momentum and optimism that leaves all in a state of stunned, almost zen awe.
There were a few minor quibbles on the night, such as a few sound issues at the start of night which, bizzarely, left Kevin Shields's guitar as the quietest thing in the mix (which is missing the whole point of the band, surely?) and a slight dissapointment that some of the new record's strongest moments - Who Sees You and In Another Way in particular - had been passed over for yet another run-through twenty-five year old material like Thorn. But there were enough moments of genuine sonic bliss, enough times when the barrage of sound lifted the room into another mental state, to render these only very minor complaints. If you have any chance to see My Bloody Valentine live this year, make sure you take it - they're alive, they're moving forward and they shame absolutely every other guitar act out there. And you might be able to hear the next day this time round.