Reviews

My Bloody Valentine: 13 March 2013 - London

The shoegaze legends are back touring in support of their hugely anticipated and epically delayed new album. So it's a bit strange they hardly play any of it.


My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine

City: London
Venue: Hammersmith Apollo
Date: 2013-03-13
My Bloody Valentine

m b v

US Release: 2013-02-02
Label: Self-released
UK Release: 2013-02-02
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

The Hammersmith Apollo in London is a grand old venue, an Art Deco bunker first opened in 1932 as the Gaumont Palace picture theatre. These days it’s a fittingly cavernous venue for the sonic pyrotechnics of My Bloody Valentine, who are by now a kind of grand old band themselves, albeit a mysterious, elusive, and immensely frustrating one.

Of course, that My Bloody Valentine is band at all these days is a surprise, not least to the band themselves, most likely. Back in 1990, in the dark, torturous months and years spent recording Loveless, or in the long, slow collapse of the band in the wake of that album’s suffocating critical acclaim, it must have been hard to imagine they would be playing a venue like this so many years later. Yet, not only are they back, they are finally touring again in support of the new album that fans have been waiting on for two decades.

The new tour, and indeed the album it supports, could have been just another victory lap: a pleasant, money-spinning jukebox pander to their balding audience. Lord knows, they wouldn’t be the first. Certainly over recent years, plenty of other important but underappreciated-at-the-time bands of the '80s and '90s have reunited for enjoyable, lucrative, but generally creatively bankrupt tours (cough... Pavement, Pixies, to name just two).

And for a while it did seem like My Bloody Valentine were heading down that path too. After they reunited in 2007, they spent a couple of years playing decades-old songs, and had they stayed that way, I don’t think too many people would have really held it against them. Sure, after so long, the excitement of seeing them live is tempered by familiarity with the songs, but who would begrudge a beloved band finally making a bit of money off their now-legendary status? A roller-coaster is still fun even when you know all the turns.

I turns out, though, that they were just warming up. Now we have an actual new My Bloody Valentine album, and everything feels different. Suddenly the band has to evaluated as a living creative entity, not a fairground attraction. It’s a thrilling, but also daunting prospect.

Of the album, it has thankfully turned out to be as good as anyone could have reasonably hoped. m b v’s nine tracks evolve naturally out of Loveless’s now-familiar pattern of swirling guitars into progressively stranger and more percussion-driven territory. Even if it doesn’t quite bear comparison with Loveless in terms of artistic achievement, it's impressive on its own terms, and maybe as importantly, it charts a convincing path forward.

But what of My Bloody Valentine, the living, breathing band? On the evidence of this concert and tour (they’re using the same set list for each show) it’s a bit of a mixed bag, even if the highs of the show are as extraordinary as you might hope.

At their best, which is often, My Bloody Valentine is a live act that defies description. The most powerful tracks, all drawn from Loveless, are nothing short of astonishing when experienced live, at the punishingly high volumes for which the band is (in)famous. The live performances are also capable of giving new depth to some less-known tracks, especially from their earlier recordings.

The band waste no time pulling out the powerhouses in their back-catalogue. The show opens with “I Only Said” and “When You Sleep”, both standout tracks from Loveless. Kevin Shield’s voice is a detached, barely present whisper under the grinding, breathless guitars on the former. Then the cold burst of “When You Sleep” is utterly magical, sounding as gleaming and new and strange and heartbreaking as it ever did. It’s one of the moments in the show when everything seems in harmony, as Shields and Bilinda Butcher’s soft, sad voices intertwine seamlessly, and the guitars sound like transmissions from another, better planet.

Other Loveless tracks provide similar highs. “Soon”, in particular, is a massive, beautiful sledgehammer of shimmering sound that seems endless and hypnotic and represents the apex of the night. On the album, parts of the song sounded slightly tame in comparison to some other tracks; live, anchored by a massive backbone of bass and played at crushing volume, it sounds like My Bloody Valentine’s greatest achievement.

It’s a joy to hear music of this power live, no matter how often you might have heard the songs before. Certainly, nobody would ever fault My Bloody Valentine for filling the setlist with tracks from such a seminal album. What is a surprise, and a bit of a disappointment, is that there are so few new songs on the programme for this tour; only three out of the seventeen tracks come from m b v. Instead, almost half the gig is devoted to playing material that’s a quarter century old.

Of course, you would expect to hear a few early songs at any established band’s show. In fact, my Bloody Valentine’s debut Isn’t Anything has some strong songs that weren’t fully realised on the album, and so benefit greatly from a more powerful live sound. But in addition to the songs from Isn’t Anything, the band has unaccountably included five other early tracks on the set list, including almost the entire 1988 EP You Made Me Realise. In other circumstances, it would be a blessing to hear so many early and non-album tracks. On the recordings, many these songs sounded thin and restrained, and in their live iterations the songs are given backbone, the fragile vocals on these tracks drowned in oceans of noise, only occasionally bobbing to the surface.

But fascinating, and occasionally awe-inspiring as these songs are to hear live, when the band is touring behind a full album of new material it seems downright stingy to only include three tracks, especially when that album is as delayed and anticipated as any in music history. On the evidence of this set, it may be partly that the band are still working out how to get the best out of these songs in a live setting.

“New You” is m b v’s most immediately appealing track. It's an upbeat, uplifting, almost funky slice of pop that, with a few tweaks, could have been a pretty big radio hit in a different era. Here, somehow, it doesn’t really work, as it drags listlessly, and feels empty without the anchoring blanket of guitar noise that My Bloody Valentine usually cover their songs. “Only Tomorrow” just sounds murky and formless, almost tuneless and unrecognisable for much of its length, relative to the woozily beautiful album version. “Wonder 2”, which ends the show, is just deafening and ugly, although it’s chances aren’t helped by coming after the apocalyptically loud version of “You Made Me Realise” that the band traditionally ended their shows with.

Still, regardless of flaws in the live versions of these new songs, it’s disappointing not to be able to experience other tracks from m b v live. The flanging, squalling guitar of “Who Sees You” and the pummelling percussion and wailing, layered keyboards of “In Another Way” could have been fantastic tasted at top volume in a big venue. The wall-of-drums instrumental “Nothing Is” would also have been a welcome kick in the teeth right at the front of a show.

Ok, m b v’s more subdued, breathy tracks might have just dissipated in a big venue. It’s probably no coincidence that “Sometimes” is also missing from the set list, despite being one of the band’s best known tracks from Loveless. It’s another gentle, sad track, and My Bloody Valentine in their live incarnation don’t seem to be a band much given to contemplation. If the band are struggling with translating live renditions of the more obvious candidates from m b v, it might be understandable that they don’t want to chance playing some of the iffier tracks.

Still, I can’t help but feel like My Bloody Valentine bottled it a bit with the song selection for this tour. If you want to be a creatively functioning, risk-taking, relevant touring act, one of the requirements is giving an airing to new album tracks, reworking them for a live audience where necessary, even if they might not always work perfectly. For whatever reason, the band seem to have not have the confidence in these new tracks to get them into the spotlight just yet, and that feels like a shame, and a bit of a cop-out.

Still, for all that, the band haven’t lost their capacity to shock. The reputation of "You Made Me Realise" as a live song precedes it, thanks to the so-called “holocaust” section of the song, an eardrum shredding, seemingly endless block of furious white noise that they ‘play’ towards the end of the song. It is, by a distance, the loudest sustained noise I’ve ever heard, at a gig or anywhere else for that matter. The feedback has a low frequency -- a deep crackling roar that sounds like a long, drawn out explosion -- and an incredible physical presence. As the whole floor of the venue rumbles and clothes flap in the vibrations, the crowd puts their fingers in their ears; most look profoundly uncomfortable. Yet when after around ten minutes the band abruptly snuff out the inferno and return to the chorus, and the song ends, it’s somehow immensely thrilling, drawing one of the biggest cheers of the night... and not only of relief.

Of course, this isn’t a new trick, as the band have been doing this with “You Made Me Realise” since the early '90s, and have been known to play the holocaust section for half an hour or more. As awe-inspiring and intimidating as the track is, it does have a bit of the feel of a party piece by now, even if it’s a party on hell’s doorstep. Let’s just hope that the band finds it in them to keep pushing the boundaries with their live shows, as well as in the studio.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Music

Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.

Music

Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.

Music

The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.

Music

Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.

Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.

Music

Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.