By Steve McLinden
Thank God that My Bloody Valentine is back, in whatever form we could get them. Troubled by the fact that he could never write an album as great as 1991’s shoegaze masterpiece, Loveless, Kevin Shields has said he went crazy writing new material in the mid-‘90s. Shields says he “went crazy,” the band broke up, and while the members moved on to collaborate with other rock artists, the future seemed hopeless for a decade or so. That is, until 2007, when Shields began saying things like he was personally remastering the bands two full-length albums, that they would be playing live shows, and that there would definitely be a new album someday. For kids like me, who would’ve been more likely to be seen in kindergarten before I was in an all-ages show back in the band’s heyday, My Bloody Valentine’s stop in New York for two shows on September 22 and 23 were dreams come true.
After curating the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival upstate in Monticello on the weekend prior, a three-day-long odyssey of really loud rock music featuring the likes of Built to Spill, Mogwai, Trail of Dead and plenty more that would take up too much of this page to list, My Bloody Valentine headed downstate to play at Roseland Ballroom in midtown Manhattan for these two nights, the first of which I attended.
The first opener, Le Volume Courbe, was interesting, but I didn’t particularly enjoy them. The singer, Charlotte Marionneau, had a certain uniquely insecure-sounding voice that I think was supposed to add to the freak-folk element. She is a French expatriate in London, and rumored on the Internet to be Kevin Shields’ girlfriend. (Well, thank you, spoils system.) The acoustic guitarist played his depressing minor chords adequately, and I think the violinist who doubled on xylophone (a xylophone that they had the technicians spend ten minutes setting up just perfectly) turned out to be a little unnecessary.
Following that half-hour set, we were treated to a set by The Wounded Knees, which is coincidentally fronted by Kevin Shields’ brother Jimi. We could tell of his relation to Kevin by the way he complained to the sound guys about the levels in a monitor after every single song. They would’ve been more enjoyable if not for the focus on the flutist—yes, a girl playing an amplified flute was made central to most of the band’s songs. At the end of the show, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr came out with electric guitar to join them. Much of the crowd had no idea who he was, and it doesn’t help that he is the most unsociable man in rock and roll, but to be fair, J Mascis is a man who needs no introduction. If you ever see an aging man these days with near-white hair almost to his waist wearing an Adidas track jacket and an electric guitar hanging from his shoulder, it’s probably J. (But don’t bother telling him you’re a fan, because you’ll probably just creep him out.) Unfortunately, it was not a Dinosaur Jr song that he joined them for, just some Middle-Eastern-influenced eight-minute jam with lots and lots of flute.
Shortly after ten o’clock, My Bloody Valentine came to the stage. I took my earplugs out at this point because I’m so hardcore. There were stations all around the entrance to the venue with boxes of free earplugs and signs like, “YOU WILL NEED THESE,” or “MBV RECOMMED [sic] USING EARPLUGS.” In the early ‘90s, they had a reputation for turning their monitors away from themselves, just to blast out the eardrums of the crowd even more. While we didn’t get any of that these days, they were still pretty damn loud. My Bloody Valentine always had a reputation for not varying up their setlist, and what we got was almost exactly the same as what they played when opening the reunion tour in Glasgow in June or at either of the other shows in the state of New York. It was mostly a mix of their more powerful tracks from Loveless, Isn’t Anything, and the You Made Me Realise EP; there are no deep tracks from their earlier more goth-sounding recordings. Opening with “I Only Said” into “When You Sleep” was no doubt the only choice that could be made.
The vocals could’ve been louder (but then again, people say that about Loveless), but guitarist/female vocalist Bilinda Butcher’s voice sounded as dreamily wonderful as it did almost twenty years ago. The greatest sight of the night was the way that bassist Debbie Googe fought like the bass was a beast to be tamed.
After an hour or so, I began to say to myself, “I’ve been to louder shows than this. I’ve leaned on guitar monitors at noise rock shows. I’ll only have tinnitus for a couple of days.” Seeing as there was a disappointing barricade to keep us no less than twenty feet from the stage and the crowd had gotten their even earlier than I, distance had to do a little bit to save my hearing.
That is, until “You Made Me Realise” descended into the heaviest twenty-minute sound vacuum I had ever heard. At first, it felt like we were on board a rocket launch; a feeling so out-of-this-world. After about three or four minutes, I realized that it only sounded like a rocket launch, and I figured that I should put my earplugs in if I wanted the ringing to go away before the end of September. Looking around, about a quarter of the crowd was forcing their fingers into their ears to drive the earplugs deeper, while another quarter raised their hands like thrill seekers on a roller coaster or worshippers at the altar of wall of sound. By the end, even Kevin Shields had had enough, warning drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig to stop playing already. The band went into the last verse of “You Made Me Realise” which most of us probably couldn’t recognize after having our ears beat up, and shortly thereafter, they waved goodbye and left the stage to return without an encore.
Any false hopes of them previewing a new song were dashed. In the week to follow these New York shows, My Bloody Valentine wrapped up their dates in North America and the tour, for now. The remaster of Isn’t Anything, the band’s first album was scheduled for release on September 29th, and from what I heard of it, it did not consist of blasphemous alterations like many fans feared. Reportedly, the Loveless remaster is being held up by Kevin’s rewriting of the liner notes. Both albums had been scheduled for a June release to precede all of this touring. With any luck, we will be getting a new My Bloody Valentine album within a couple of years, the band will tour again, and they will get a chance to abuse my eardrums once more.