My Bloody Valentine @ The Roundhouse
Five years ago, witnessing the wonders of the bands of my formative historical lessons in music live in concert seemed a dream on par with shaking Jimi Hendrix’s hand or slapping Sting square in the face. But these days, with the money flying and the revivalism at a cyclical zenith, you can’t move for bands reuniting and reminding that the young pretenders of today are indeed, just pretending. The Pixies booted their supporting Futureheads off the stage, Sebadoh lo-fi rocked the shit out of the KOKO and Sonic Youth, well, they didn’t reunite but them, playing Daydream Nation, ain’t no young’ns getting close to that.
My Bloody Valentine have a number of followers of various ilk but no one has ever quite managed to grasp the mantle of ear-bleeding noise and ethereal beauty in the quite the same nuanced way as Kevin Shields and gang. If you don’t own Loveless, you’re likely unfavoured by your music loving friends and you are no associate of mine.
The lead up to shows was pure tension. Reports suggested that tinnitus-inducingly loud string-bashing was the order of the day and for the first night I saw them, that was in attendence. But not quite that loud. I was sat close to the rear of Chalk Farm’s Roundhouse and could get the fuss. Praise-be that my lovely housemate John held a spare ticket for my taking.
This second outing to the Valentine was to be the true, full MBV experience. The tension outside going in was palpable, people half delirious with excitement at seeing a seminal shoegazing concern, half deeply worried over the level of noise and whether their sweet little eardrums will be able to take it. Well their sweet little eardrums had every right to be quaking inside those heads.
The first song, ‘Only I Said’, was our only outing without the provided earplugs. Now you may scoff and harden rock fans will giggle and whisk away to the Metallica fan site and complain about the nambie indie kids unable to take the heat. But I tell you now, I have seen some very loud gigs in my time, but this was pretty astonishing. Those who videoed their gigs were only able to pick up the general gist of the sound with the microphones on their mobiles crushed by the onslaught. So while I understand the immediate tendency of the image-conscious fans to tut, this was no ordinary situation. Post-‘Only I Said’, the earplugs went in to mitigate the impact and worked well.
It was a pretty incredible show, both musically and physically. It’s rare you go to gigs where the soundwaves are battering you at the back of the auditorium but darn it, that’s precisely what happens throughout this performance. You feel at times like you’ve entered a cartoon where Jerry is blasting a stereo in to Tom’s face and you’re standing next to him, having all the drawn lines of sound pushing back the clothes on your body and leaving you broken, battered, bruised and in a state of total ecstacy.
Most of the key songs from the Loveless, Isn’t Anything and some of their EPs made it in, ‘Only Shallow’ provided the most starkly beautiful combination of crushingly loud guitar riffing and drop-dead ethereal vocals. ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ was brutal, ‘Soon’ was wonderful, and then, there’s ‘You Made Me Realise’.
On record, a three-and-a-half minute slice of proto-MBV riffing and lulling. Live, the most intense experience I’ve ever experienced/endured. On our night, it was 20 solid minutes of one-chord riffing, crushingly violent and confrontational. Throughout, you fall away from the room and then are dragged back, each time never quite comprehending how beautiful and how brutal the treatment of the fans is. When it finally closes, and it feels like twenty minutes, the flood of pure freedom that hits you drags your body out of the trance and you can move on out, celebrating just how mind-blowing what you just witnessed was.
It’s telling that now, four days after, every moment remains indelibly inked onto my musical psyche and it barges loudly into the realms where I keep the first answers to the ‘best gig ever?’ question.
You can check out the setlist here.