There has been a lot of hype over the cult-status shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine this last year. After 16 years of non-activity due to a ‘lack of inspiration’, we were suddenly faced with a reported album in the works, and an extensive reunion tour, set to begin in June 2008. Understandably, the excitement – and apprehension – has been enormous. But if anyone was worried that they’d have lost their edge after the long absence, their appearance at Camden’s Roundhouse on Friday night – their first gig in 16 years – will silence their fears for good.
The show was refreshingly to the point, without a hint of arrogance to be seen. No “Hello London”s, no chit-chat between songs. And no new material. Just one and a half hours of non-stop music from their two albums, played at jet plane engine volume, in front of a screen depicting what appeared to be a mixture of psychedelic light patterns, warped close-ups of guitars and 1960s art house films.
For those of you who don’t know, My Bloody Valentine’s sound is a mixture of noise and melody – swirling guitars and dream-like vocals, pitch bending and heavy distortion. It’s ethereal, and it’s loud. Very loud. Singer / guitarist Kevin Shields manipulates the tremolo arm as he plays, the tone of the guitars bending and distorting like vinyl that’s been left in the sun. The space of the Roundhouse worked well to recreate the overall feeling of the recorded material, a collage of sound and texture that sounded brilliantly massive in the enormous domed space of the venue.
The set launched with ‘Only Shallow’, the opener from their 1991 album ‘Loveless’, to unbelievable cheers from the crowd. And it didn’t stop there as songs such as ‘I Only Said’, ‘Blown a Wish’, and ‘Soon’ were fired off so swiftly and casually it was easy to forget they’d ever been away. If the band were affected in any way by the anticipation surrounding their reunion, or the positive reception from the crowd, they showed it not – instead playing with a strange, daydreamy apathy that seemed eerily contrary to the music. Singer Bilinda Butcher had the expression and air of someone standing in line at the post office, while her hands, seemingly unbeknown to her, tore walls of sound from her guitar.
The music, in short, blew the roof off. Simultaneously abrasive and beautiful, the sound of the guitars cut as sharp as wire in blancmange. The vocals, however, were buried so deep in the guitars that they were almost indiscernible. Although vocals are low in the mix for most of their recorded material, it’s a shame that the balance wasn’t tipped a little, as much of the set ended up with something of an instrumental feel. It’s a shame in retrospect, but then details like this don’t really matter when you’re peering into a torment of colour and psychedelic strobe effects, open-mouthed, your ears melting onto your shoulders.
After all, My Bloody Valentine are a noise band, and noise they can do. And they do it well. The set ended with ‘You Made Me Realise’, and with it a 20 minute barrage of sound and high feedback (it is later reported that this reached 128 db at one point). A sonic assault that had the crowd torn between clutching their ears (many did), and listening, trance-like, as their skulls turned to pâté – while providing with a complimentary extended My Bloody Valentine performance in what looks to be a good extra week of noise ringing in the ears. And if that’s not value for money then what is?
My advice to you is this: if you get the chance to see this band at one of their many upcoming shows, do it. Oh and a piece of extra advice: make use of the free earplugs given out at the shows. So maybe it’s not very rock and roll, but at least you’ll be able to hear the new record, when and if it arrives.
Catch My Bloody Valentine on tour in the UK, at numerous festivals and across the US of A. For more info, click here