My Bloody Valentine
The ICA, London, UK
Friday 13 June 2008
“Thanks for coming to our rehearsal. Our first gig is at the Roundhouse”. Thus from the outset, Kevin Shields is clear that this isn’t the finished artefact. But then they launch straight into Only Shallow and it feels nothing like 16 years since they last did this.
With time passing, there are things you forget. Like how tuneful many of their songs are. The boxes of earplugs by the entrance were a little worrying, but the mix is very dense and full rather than particularly loud. But it’s not all power; there’s fragility, particularly in the vocals of Bilinda Butcher, which make it vulnerable and human. All the vocals are mixed a fair way back, and Bilinda has a sweet innocence as she sings, seeming somewhat divorced from the proceedings. To her left Kevin Shields is head down in concentration, but allows himself a smile when things go just right.
The rhythm section is set far to the back of the stage. Debbie Googe dances around in her circle of foldback, while Colm O'Ciosoig is a solid and almost machine-like presence on the drums. They cover material from the Creation Records period, and of this it’s the Loveless material that works best. With sound sometimes being a maelstrom, it’s amazing how in control of it they all are. That’s not to say that their aren’t flat points, but for me the experience grew in the memory more than it gripped me at the time. But it was also a beast that gathered strength as it progressed, as both they and we came to grips with the expectations after so long a hiatus.
They still end their set as they did back then with the behemoth of You Made Me Realise. The central section of this became known as the Holocaust, but it’s not that at all. It’s more like a journey; the trip through the stargate at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But standing there in awe, I realise what I’m hearing is an audio depiction of the Valley Forge ripping through the rings of Saturn in Silent Running. Communications arrays are destroyed as the ship enters radio silence for the white noise journey; then the ship emerges safely on the other side, but all are changed by the experience, and then reality intervenes as the almost psychedelic jangle of the song returns at the end.
This was as good as you could hope and better than you had any right to expect. So why the reticence? While people around me were melting in ecstasy, I found it a little hard to get involved. And then it hit me. I wasn’t hearing anything new. This was not even an official gig, so I don’t have much of an issue with that, but MBV were always trailblazers. Tonight they cemented their reputation as a live act, and allowed a new generation of fans to see what we had been going on about for so long. The time they’ve lost may be their greatest enemy; what will be most interesting will be if they’re able to go beyond Loveless into something entirely new. I’ll be hoping
© James McGalliard 2008