My Bloody Valentine—a legendary band who epitomized the shoegaze genre, if not actually defined it in some sense—brought their own sound system to Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, filling the space with raging cascades of sound. Channeling an ethereal sort of madness, the Irish four-piece played with a transcendent force that tore through the enraptured crowd.
As one might expect, a band like My Bloody Valentine does not conform to a typical stage presence. There is very little in the way of words or even spaces between songs. The stage was filled with drastic periods of alternating darkness and blinding light. Shielded from the front section of the stage with plexiglass sound barriers, bassist Debbie Googe stayed in the back next to drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig. Despite this obvious distancing, they worked effectively together to provide a building tension and edgy rhythm. Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher stayed in front but apart, visible at times only between shadows and strobes. The intensity of their impact lay not within any facial expressions but within the massive sound they created.
Through all the grinding and swirling guitars provided by Shields and Butcher, the sweetness of Butcher’s vocals drifted across the audience throughout most of the night, helping to lessen the harshness with a strong feminine presence. The band, back after a prolonged hiatus (their last album was released in 1991), played many key favorites from Isn’t Anything and Loveless with a focus on the latter of the two. The audience stood transfixed as the band powered through “Feed Me with Your Kiss”, “I Only Said”, Only Shallow”, “When You Sleep”, and “To Here Knows When”. And while there were times when the noise climbed to such a height that it became impossible to distinguish a song’s separate element, these decibel-destroying occasions allowed the tunes to take on a new shape.
The pivotal moment of the set came during “You Made Me Realize”, which broke off into over twenty minutes of evolving noise that locked into a strange infinity. It was impossible not to feel like you were surviving something outside this world that was as heavenly as it was traumatic. In many ways, it felt like punishment served at the same time as salvation. Halfway through the sonic assault, audience members reached up in the air, grabbing the dissolving molecules of sound as if they were pieces of chocolate. This was the sort of pounding that might lead to blistering, but it was a welcome assault, and left the impression that, oddly enough, it was the silence that was too loud.