Wednesday, 18 June 2008

M. B. V. Good

It's My Bloody Valentine Season!

Thursday 12th June sees a flurry of excitement from the Kitten old-skool gig-going masssive as we discover My Bloody Valentine are playing at the ICA over the weekend. The ICA? That's (relatively) tiny! Tickets and guest list places are secured, though not for me as I have an urgent weekend appointment to run round and round a garden with two dogs and two small boys.

Saturday morning reports trickle across the wires:
'All good on the MBV front. AMAZING (really)'
'So the good news is that MBV still sound, and look, just like MBV. 15 songs, all post Ecstasy, one of which lasts for considerably more than 3 minutes.'
I start to feel excited about our rendezvous with the Valentines, we've got tickets for their penultimate Roundhouse gig. Then, a text from M. There's a spare place going for the opening night at the Roundhouse, do I fancy it? Er, YES!

Friday 20th June: a queue snakes from the Roundhouse doors up the road and round the corner. Anyone who isn't queuing is over the road in The Enterprise, There's Nat, the 'Bishop of Shoegaze', there's that bloke from The Early Years who looks like an owl...and here's M bearing Valentines tales and magic guest list words. And behold...a triple A pass. A ha ha ha! In your face, world!! (It turns out there's another pass I could have on Saturday, but I don't notice the text until Sunday. Why world why??!!!)

My Bloody Valentine wander onstage, start playing 'Only Shallow', and oh dear! every other band in the universe might as well give up now, MBV show us how far everybody else hasn't come in the twenty years since these songs were written. Now I remember why I was never totally taken by the likes of Ride and all that 'gazey lot, they were inconsequential meteor showers to MBV's whirling universe. By the time Lush et al appeared, we'd already gorged ourselves on Valentines and Spacemen and Loop. We were spoilt.

My Bloody Valentine still look exactly like My Bloody Valentine. Kevin, shaggy of hair and saggy of clothing, lurking nondescript to the left and just doing this...stuff with a guitar that nobody else in the whole world seems capable of, bending sound, creating ripples in smoke. Bilinda's apparently unchanged delicate looks bely the fact that she's complicit in kicking out this raging storm of music. That was always the beauty of MBV, they didn't need big characters or fancy staging (although there are some magnificent back projections filling the stage with colour and light tonight), each member was a vital component, but they just each did their thing and let the music destroy us all. There's the fabulous Debbie on bass. I'm glad to see she's still doing her vicious 'I'm digging your grave' attacking action on the noisy bits, throwing her whole body behind the chords. And of course, Colm's out of body drumming blur. I never could figure out where he found the stamina to hit things like that.

The set takes in tracks from the two albums and assorted EPs the band released after 'Ecstasy' - the record that saw them shift from trebly indie noise-pop scamps to sonic adventurers. I was always more of an 'Isn't Anything' girl than a 'Loveless' fanatic (although it's like saying I prefer breathing to eating). The more visceral attack of the likes of 'When You Wake (You're Still In A Dream)', the queasily punning 'Sueisfine' (which threatens to become unmoored tonight, a skidding and sliding maelstrom, I find it hard to catch its beat) and machine gunning 'Feed Me With Your Kiss' are the songs that make me grin the widest here. And then there's the oozing 'Slow' grinding along on monster bass, compelling the crowd to sway and lurch in time to its sickly rhythm. Oh, and 'Thorn', soaring and dive-bombing on drill-bit guitars - it sounds so vital, I have to do a bit of good old hair shaking to it. The softer textures and intricate layers of the 'Loveless' tracks, the fluffy fog of 'Blown A Wish', the looping, dipping, loopily dippy 'When You Sleep', the whalesong keening of 'I Only Said' seem to fill the Roundhouse with a tangible haze of downy sound. The audience reacts with the most glee to 'Soon', the familiar ticking rhythm and see-saw tune setting off a burst of enthusiastic dancing that dies down after everyone realises they're not as young as they were.

Finally, it's time for that behemoth of sound terrorism, 'You Made Me Realise'. How will the band top their previous performances during which they bent and stretched the middle of the song over one chord louder and louder for longer and longer until they were easily topping ten minutes, blitzing the audience with NOISE? I always had to stick my fingers in my ears when it happened. Thank the Lord that today I've had the foresight to nip into Boots for some earplugs (also available free at the Roundhouse bar). I love MBV but they're not destroying any more of my hearing.

So, the song starts up with its familiar bursts of atonal urgency, swooning and gliding across the verses, exploding into car crash patterns, until The Chord happens. Oh Sweet Baby Jesus and His Mary Chain! It. Is. LOUD. Nuclear Bomb going off loud. Rearrange your DNA loud. For nearly twenty minutes the band stands casually chanelling pure white noise up into the domed roof of the building until I peer upwards nervously, convinced it's going to crack open like an egg. I sneak my earplugs out for a few seconds...argh! and quickly stuff them back in again. I've seen MBV doing this aggressive noise assault business on numerous occassions, but I've never experienced anything like this: shrieking, roaring, twenty jet-planes taking off in your head. I can feel the soundwaves soft and warm on my face, rattling my teeth, as a slightly uncomfortable pressure across my chest. For a while I close my eyes and sort of sunbathe in it all, strobes bright on my eyelids. After a while I look around. People are hunching over, fingers stuck in ears, creeping away from the front, looking stricken. It's uncomfortable, but it's also genius.

I glance at my watch, it's twenty-five to eleven, Oh God, what if the band are planning on playing this chord all the way up to eleven o'clock? They don't, eventually, the remainder of the song crashes back in, we snap our heads in time to the familiar beat, relieved, riding survivor's highs. And then it's the end. We came, we saw, they wiped the floor with us.

1 comment:

kt said...

I've been reading all the reviews I can of the MBV gigs at the Roundhouse and I think yours does the best of describing what I recall from their shows in the '90s. I love the glee of your opening line,"It's My Bloody Valentine Season!" Yeah!

I'm hoping to see them when they hit LA, although I'm about 16hrs away in another state.