Reviewed by Bec Hennessy
I confess. I had never heard My Bloody Valentine’s work until tonight. Those of you that are familiar with them are probably laughing at me right now. And yes – I CAN hear you laughing. Though only just…considering I declined the earplugs offered to me at the door. Earplugs. At the door of the Tivoli? I found this odd, and yeah, I obviously had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The reason I jumped at the chance to see these guys is that a) their reputation precedes them (the phrase ‘seminal’ gets thrown around a lot) and b) this show was a looong time coming for most fans. Their last studio album prior to the recent release was over 20 years ago. So it was a bit of ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ and a bit of wanting to see if the hype was justified.
I arrived to the aforementioned ear plugs and a sparsely populated Tivoli. An hour later it was packed back to the sound desk. Anticipation ran high as I eyed Kevin Shields arsenal of pedals that probably needed a forklift to unload. When they take to the stage he stands laconically in front of his war room barely moving except to discard spent guitars like bullet shells, reloading after each song.
Bilinda’s looking like a 50’s rock housewife who can actually rock. Whilst bassist Debbie George is clad in black, feet firmly planted in bad ass punk rock stance. Colm Ó Cíosóig not to be forgotten as the one drummer to bind them all, keeping it tight.
I won’t pretend to know the individual tracks played. I’ve since seen the set list and it was a pretty even mix from their back catalogue, slightly “Loveless” heavy which is to be expected and probably desired by their die hard fans. The sound was…. unbelievable. Yeah it was loud. It was distorted, delayed and abrasive as hell. I was slightly taken aback at just the volume and noise. And considering I’ve seen Meshuggah play a small, enclosed venue – that’s saying something. It’s generally a good noise though. A blistering level of crunching distortion and jarring fuzz. The kind of music a sullen teenage me would have cranked in my bedroom when I was angry at the world. It’s a kind of wild abandoned anti-music I could get into.
One problem though. Vocals or lack thereof. I knew enough about the band to know that their vocals are less of a focus than most other artists, but it was inaudible. They WERE singing. And speaking, even. Kevin gazed away from his shoes/pedals a couple of times to address us in a few words but I have no idea what he said. I felt a bid old and uncool for thinking it, but after a while I was like ..is this just ..noise? Hey, I love distortion as much as the next person but even I knew they had a bit more than that. It was no more glaringly obvious than on “Only Shallow”. It’s a great song partly because it’s washed with beautiful breathy vocals. Tonight it went without those, which I felt was a shame. I felt like the gig in general was missing some of the softer shimmering guitar and vocal sounds they have. Fan opinion seemed to be slightly divided as to how much the vocals effected the enjoyment of the show but for me it was a big factor.
I won’t harp on about the sound issues. I’m sure 99% of the Internet is doing that already. On the plus side their drummer and bass player were a highlight. Debbie plays some mean fuzz bass, with Colm keeping it tight and together throughout Kevin’s onslaughts. I appreciated the punk nihilism in what they do, the 10-15 minute noise-avalanche-jam of doom they went into during the closer bruised my ear drums, but I had respect for it’s avant garde-fuck you-ness.
In the end if nothing else, I left with enough hearing to go home and finally listen to their records knowing now the hype is somewhat justified even if it didn’t exactly come together live tonight.