My Bloody Valentine, Spectrum
Tom Blackburn 28/06/2008
There are few bands with a live reputation quite as colossal as My Bloody Valentine. The prominent signs dotted around the venue urging people to grab their earplugs give you some idea what you're in for, in case anyone was under any illusion that the Anglo-Irish quartet's 15-year absence had dimmed their appetite for making a truly fearsome racket.
In the decade-and-a-half since their last live show, tales of confusion and panic in the aftermath of their brutal white noise assault had almost become fables in certain circles. Unsuspecting punters sprawled across venue floors, hands clasped tightly over their ears, women giving birth during You Made Me Realise without even being pregnant beforehand - well, perhaps not that last one. But surely there must be a hint of exaggeration about the band?
Well, no, actually. It's a more blissful, dreamy kind of noise, but anyone who's seen Mogwai or Lightning Bolt may have some idea just how powerful My Bloody Valentine are. Even those bands would struggle to compete with the sustained brutality of You Made Me Realise's staggering 'holocaust' section, but more on that later.
Kevin Shields' signature glide guitar sound still sounds like nothing else on Earth. Often imitated but still never accurately replicated, it's simultaneously piercing and warm, feeling almost as if you could wrap yourself in it. Set opener I Only Said gets proceedings off to a mesmerising start, its poppy central riff drifting hazily over the maelstrom.
Although the Shields-generated wall of noise is undoubtedly the main attraction, the band's rhythm section is powerful and precise. With guitarists Shields and Bilinda Butcher in the wings, bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm O'Ciosoig occupy centre stage. O'Ciosoig throws himself around his kit with force, which he somehow manages to keep up right through the set.
And though it's Loveless that gets most of the critical plaudits, it's actually the material from the Isn't Anything LP that sounds particularly good tonight. Free from the shackles of that album's flat production, the songs really come to life - Feed Me With Your Kiss and Sueisfine are particularly savage, whilst the brittle, delicate Lose My Breath feels rather like the eye of the storm.
The visuals are also a real treat. Rather than hackneyed cuts of waving fields of poppies and other such shoegazer clichés, To Here Knows When is accompanied by a blinding blue sky, whilst Thorn is backed by mysterious clips of a nude woman running down a hallway - entirely appropriate, given the mysterious, gothic, almost sinister sensuality of the music.
And then, after the hypnotic groove of Soon, the band hits the gathered admirers with a 1-2-3 few bands could come close to. The brutal drone-punk of Feed Me With Your Kiss and Sueisfine softens everyone up, before it hits you. You Made Me Realise, the one everyone's been waiting for with a mix of childlike excitement and trepidation.
It's every bit as confounding as you've been led to believe. When the 'holocaust' section arrives, it pounds into you with staggering physical force, the low-end rumble almost lifting you off your feet. Even the slightest change in sound feels like being stabbed directly in the eardrum. The visuals grow increasingly demented as the noise gathers, not that you're paying as much attention as you'd perhaps like to. And that's how it continues for somewhere around 25 minutes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, not everyone can stand it. Indie refugees in straw hats and skinny jeans grab their heads and rock back and forth frantically for the first ten minutes, before making a dazed dash for the exits. Even many of those who withstood the punishment are disorientated by the end, staggering out onto the street. By the end, it feels almost as if someone's taken a truckload of industrial cleaning equipment to the inside of your head.
If I was really in a nitpicking mood, I'd be a trifle disappointed that MBV couldn't find any room in their set for Loomer or Honey Power. But I'm not in a nitpicking mood, and I can honestly say that this was one of the best gigs I've ever seen. Best of all, this tour confirms they're back, active and still vital. They'll need new material fairly sharpish to prevent their reunion descending into Pixies-style indifference, but for now it's just great to have them back.
Photo by Booger Benson: