As the last hiss, groan, and shred of so many guitars in maximum overdrive faded into the comforting murmur of C&W at the Concourse - and the buzzing began in earnest in my earholes - I had to admit, those My Bloody Valentines are still fricking bloody amazing.
I remember 'em way back when, among all those hazy watercolor memories of the '90s, at the Kennel Club, now the Independent. And back then, around the release of Loveless, I remember thinking, they're good but they're no Sonic Youth. No mistake, I still love me some SY. But after the last multitextured blasts of "You Made Me Realise" surged first one, then twice with delicious rock 'n' roll drama, inspiring a small sea of fists to shoot up at the front of the stage, I had to admit this band has been bloody well missed.
There were a lot of confused looks last night, Sept. 30, at the shed-like venue - right there on the faces of casual listeners and maybe a few older fans who viewed Loveless as the most daring entry in their CD library. Live, the band has lost none of their fury - or volume. The 20-minute-long noise finale - which kept me riveted with its groans, shrieks, and force-of-nature undulations and seismic shifts - doubtless disturbed. Still, the courage and audacity of MBV came through - even to someone who has attended her share of noise shows. Their organic suture of, er, noise aesthetics to pop song structure heaved up a strangely benevolent, animal-like sort of sound - nonhuman, rather than inhuman. Against that wall of distortion, it was nice to see the little bodies lying on the floor, cradling themselves, holding fingers to ears, and studying the stage from across the football-field-sized room, basking in radiating sound and taking in the aural waves coming off Expo Center Beach.
The evening began with electro-acoustic opener Suzanne Thorpe, who held my attention with the hollowed-out, subway-esque sounds she made with her flute and a fleet of gear.
Next, Spectrum - Spacemen 3 founder Sonic Boom's latest project - impressed with its droning, Stooge-tussles-with-the-Velvets-in-a-hashish-haze jams, which started slow, soft, and folkish and built to a satisfyingly noisy crescendo. Sonic Boom, surprisingly boyish in a polo shirt and short hair, asked early on, "Do any of you guys remember the late '80s?" "Yes! Whoo!" was the response.
No one was gazing at their footwear when My Bloody Valentine sauntered onstage. Casting an eye over my random notes, I gotta say the evocative light show and abstract projections perfectly complemented the music: multi-colored strobes, pink smeary smudges, B&W splotches that seeped out like tie-dyed star fields.
Kevin Shields was a little greyer and a little fuzzier - resembling a lost cast member of Dr. Who. But he sang like the lightest, brightest, most easily blown-away angel before a bank of cabinets. The imperturbable Bilinda Butcher was an unexpectedly patrician vision of elegance in her little black dress, as she flailed at her guitar. She looked like someone's extremely loud mum.
Debbie Googe kept to the rear, tense, at the ready, and occasionally rearing up with her bass, right beside drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig (Does he still live in the Bay Area?). Shards of guitar rushed down like acid rain - at times sounding like moaning, wounded manatees or air-raid sirens. At other moments, MBV seemed to be miming the sound of multiple jets taking off, crashing, and burning, as the members appeared to move delicately onstage, obscured by the smoke and light.
I'm reminded of the late, lamented SF noise experimentalists of NAM, who would tear out similar ear-bleed sounds from behind scrims and quasi-explosion-y effects - just so we could have a mini-Apocalypse Now effect. MBV's brand of noise could function as a warm and fluffy blanket of sorts, but just as quickly it can send a chill right through you. In the end, perhaps the band threw away a promising career as excessively loud composers for the Discovery Channel. Hope it won't be too long before the band comes around again.
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