I guess itâ€™s true: absence does make the heart grow fonder. Of course, thereâ€™s always the â€œout of sight, out of mindâ€ risk. Fortunately for My Bloody Valentine, the former is the case, as they are presently in the midst of a sold-out tour after an absence of 16 years. There have been no new albums, and there still isnâ€™t one. Band members have gone, and come back. The constant in all of this is the enigmatic Kevin Shields, the leader of the shoegazer pack, the bandâ€™s composer-in-residence, and the king of the effected guitar. The only wisdom that Shields shared with the packed house at Roseland came just before the last song of the evening. â€œOkay. Thanks for coming,â€ he mumbled into the mic. He may have shared some other thoughts, but any vocalizing that occurred during the songs was indecipherable, so thereâ€™s no way to know for sure.
If youâ€™re looking for a song-by-song show review, complete with insights into the technical aspects of what My Bloody Valentine was up to, and what they were wearing, Iâ€™m afraid youâ€™ll have to look elsewhere. Iâ€™ll provide the setlist for you, but I only know it because some guy posted it on a message board the next day. No, this show was of a piece. It was basically all one long, loud song. A symphony, if you will. A symphony of cacophony. It was brilliant. By far the best thing Iâ€™ve seen all year; in fact, in several years. And you thought I was going negative, didnâ€™t you?
Pre-show music included the Beach Boys and Scott Walker — that alone should have been a clue. The band entered the arena, unassuming and late. The drummer hit his snare drum to test it, and it nearly drove me through the back wall of the room. Shields strummed his guitar, and my hands reached for the earplugs draped around my neck. They were giving away free ones at the door, encouraging people to take them and use them, but I had my own.
Let me make something clear: this is a loud band. Standing near the soundboard, I could see the decibel meter nearing 130. Your average loud show clocks in at about 110 dbs. If you have any sense, you will wear earplugs from start to finish, but at some point early on, I decided that I had to fully experience this band, and the only way to do so was to remove the plugs and let it rip. (No one ever said I had any sense.)
The band played their 14-song (again, thanks to the message board guy), 80-minute set, moving from one song to another without leaving the audience time to catch its collective breath. The light and video show was first rate. It didnâ€™t have the high-tech ambiance of say, a Radiohead concert, but they did great with what they had, primarily strobes and interesting video displays. The sound was surprisingly good, despite the extreme volume. You could actually hear what was going on as opposed to the potential for one big blur. The drums were crisp and powerful in the midst of the guitar and bass madness.
The last song of the evening was a little something called â€œYou Made Me Realise.â€ As the song began, there was no reason to expect anything but more of the same, and that was fine with everyone there. There was a little bit of singing, which you would only have known if you were looking up at the stage and saw Shields and Bilinda Butcher step to their mics. Anyone who complained that the vocals were inaudible was clearly not a fan of the band. If youâ€™ve studied their music, particularly their 1991 masterpiece Loveless, you know that itâ€™s supposed to sound that way. Suddenly the singing stopped, and a great roar arose. The only thing I can think of to compare it with would be standing beneath the revving engine of a 747, though Iâ€™ve yet to try that. When it ended, some 18 minutes later, My Bloody Valentine had succeeded in prompting the friend who I went with, a gifted musician himself, to comment, â€œI have no face.â€
An hour after the show, I received a text message from that same friend. â€œDid we really just see that?â€ he asked. Thatâ€™s the kind of response My Bloody Valentine evokes. Itâ€™s taken me more than a week to even begin to process what I saw and heard that night, but I know Iâ€™d love to see it again, just as soon as my hearing returns.
Okay. Thanks for coming.
The promised setlist:
I Only Said
When You Sleep
You Never Should
When You Wake
Cigarette In Your Bed, Come In Alone
Nothing Much To Lose
To Here Knows When
Blown A Wish, Slow
Feed Me With Your Kiss
Sue Is Fine
You Made Me Realise