Friday, 4 July 2008

Heaven and Bloody Hell

The return of My Bloody Valentine has provoked all sorts of half-informed lazy myth driven guff over the last few weeks. These can be roughly summarised thus:

1) Kevin Shields is, like, a total genius.
2) It's pretty loud.
3) You get free earplugs! Score!
4) Loveless is the greatest thing since antiseptic
5) Feedback is the purifying visceral voice of God
6) My Bloody Valentine haven't played live in a while
7) There's a 20 minute section at the end called the Holocaust/the Apocalypse, this is very loud.
8) They're not very chatty are they?
9) Kevin & Belinda have, like, totally awesome guitars! Look a Fender Jaguar! Woo!
10) The fans are delighted they've reunited. The critics smile benignly and offer 3 star reviews and vaguely sour comments about no-one looking like they've aged.

After seeing MBV at the Barrowlands I can say that the above is pretty much all I heard anyone in the crowd talking about before and during the gig. I was surprised that there was so little atmosphere, everyone just standing politely around waiting to have their ears blown off (and relentlessly checking whether their earplugs were in properly or asking their neighbour whether they had their earplugs). The show was pretty good, it delivered pretty much on what you imagine My Bloody Valentine Live to be like (unremarkable early 90's indie music played at thunderous volume) with no surprises. Fantastic. Sort of. But still strangely unsatisfying despite doing everything you'd have hoped. I imagine it's like a middle-aged virgin waiting for years for "the one"and realising, after their first ride, they could have been spending the last 20 years having as much fun with different people. You Made Me Realise (that I've wasted the best years of my life waiting for safe, unspectacular congress with a similarly inhibited old codger) if you will.

Too far? Probably. But this is the problem. The fact that MBV are very loud and very mysterious seems to set them apart from some of their shoegazer alumni, although I did have a soft spot for Ride, Lush and Submarine era Whipping Boy. But there's been absolutely zero growth, no progress, no notion that anyone, fans or band alike haved moved on from 1991.
Between the old-fashioned venue, the throwback visuals and the identical setlist to 1991 the doors of the Barrowlands could actually have been a time portal in which we actually were transported back in time. For all the talk about the physicality of the MBV sound but it pales into insignificance when compared to my personal extreme noise benchmarks: Deepchord over the Berghain soundsystem, Jah Tubby's soundsystem at the Bongo Club, Pan Sonic at the Venue and Wolf Eyes at All Tomorrows Parties. I had expectations that all four of these gigs would be incredibly loud but still left surprised, giddy and blown away.

This is ultimately the problem. I don't think I could have been blown away by MBV unless we all boarded the MBV Starship and blasted off into space destroying the planet and all unbelievers with Kevin Shields' Death Ray. Now that would have been surprising. And something that exceeded my expectations. The effect of the MBV sound on the body is captivating and the noise, coupled with the strobing lights and the overpowering heat a disassociative, transcendent state is created where your mind fills in the blank canvas that the void of noise creates. Some people said they could "hear" guns and air-raid sirens throughout the "Apocalypse" section- my brain told me I could hear crowds cheering, motorbikes roaring across plains, laughter. Ultimately the best thing I can say about them is that they make everyone in the audience use their imagination. And that's a neat trick.

Before anyone gets bent out of shape, Loveless is one of my favourite albums of all time, it's been a friend to me throughout my life and hearing the songs live made me a very happy man. The gig was enjoyable and well worth attending. It's just that the scales have fallen from my eyes now.

Just a (very loud) band.


Daragh said...

I quite liked Whipping Boy around the time of Heartworm - in fact I recently purchased a replacement copy for reasons of nostalgia. Saw them live back in 1995, good stuff. Although that does mean that it's about 13 years since I started university - scary!

clom said...

heh. that's exactly how i felt when i bumped into a couple i knew back in the day in Limerick. we figured out it had been about 10 years since we'd last met!

heartworm was too bombastic for me. felt like the band had been crushed under Fergal McKee's ego.