My Bloody Valentine: Manchester Apollo – live review
My Bloody Valentine
March 10th 2013 live review
There they are, blinking in the light, the band that launched a thousand dreams. They stand there inside the maelstrom of sex and confusion and sound shredding around them. A huge swirling 21st century psychedelic skree of brilliance. This is a real trip, the light show is mind blowing and the music is so multi layered that you could be there for ever trying to pick it apart.
Last month they finally released their new album, mbv, which everyone is still trying to wrestle with; for some its genius, for others it’s not the jump forward that they were expecting- they recall the shock of the new of Loveless and the checking of their record player in case it was broken. Maybe that’s missing the point, mbv were just the realization of Kevin Shields vision, a sound that was in his head and not deliberately a year zero reinvention of music- that just happened when they finally released that iconic album. The new album is a twist in the vision and proof that the vision is still intact.
That 22 year gap till the follow up made it tricky but the album works as a continuation of that distinctive sound they honed down in the collapsing squats of the late eighties, that chemical haze of a world they inhabited and sound tracked- that point in time when post punk noise, late eighties bedsit strangeness, acid house ecstatic glow and classic neo surf melodies and a rare sexiness in indie combined in a perfect whole and created a template for a new kind of rock that is still being raided decades later.
There really is no other band like mbv, they seem timeless, they seem to float way beyond the boring stuff like nostalgia or the past or the future and inhabit their own world popping out from under the bed covers now and then when they feel like it to create this swirling storm of beauty and noise and sound to get lost in.
Tonight just underlines this with the band stood on stage with that monstrous sound swirling all around them, with its indefinable beauty swirling inside the raw power.
They don’t play by the rules and possess an internal chemistry that should be impossible in the way that this music is created.
Kevin Shields may write most of the parts on all the songs and hand them to the rest of the band on cassettes to learn but it doesn’t feel like that at all and this is very much a band experience and this, perhaps, is their coolest trick- the way that the rest of the musicians live and breathe these songs as well and the fact that it very much feels like a band.
It’s always been like this from those early gigs when they used to come up to Manchester and support my band the Membranes and stay over at my house and we would talk music gear and I would lend Kevin my Rat pedal and quadraverb whilst the all night acid party would rage around us, there were those nights in their battered squat in Kentish Town where they would let us stay when we were on tour- the squatted million dollar house that looked like the Mad Max apocalypse but was full of that youthful rush of life when music means everything and the backdrop means nothing, there was their fumbling first music press interview they did with me for Sounds at their south London rehearsal room when Kevin mapped out the road plan, that idea of striving for perfection no matter what and that idea of getting those sounds that were in your head onto vinyl.
Years later, the new album, mbv, gives these current gigs a whole new slant. If their last shows were a triumphant revisiting of that timeless back catalogue this is now a band with something to prove, unlike the Pixies there is a hunger here, something to prove and not just greatest hits to dust down. Not that mbv were ever a hits kinda band.
Right from set opener, I Only Said, from the band’s troubled to make yet brilliant defining Loveless album the band are in business. The tsunami of sound is loud and crystal clear and perfectly defined. There is a beauty and a raw power here, you can feel the timeless Stooges avalanche of sound infused into something else- with Iggy’s snotty attitude replaced with woozy sexiness.
There could be vocals but they are just below the mix just adding to the mesmerizing mix of sound, their elusive melodies slip and slide just underneath the maelstrom. It’s utterly unique the way they use the voices mainly as a texture without losing the humanity and the meaning- it’s also a really tough trick to pull it off and they somehow succeed by making sense of the huge sound they are rolling out from the stage with vocals as yet another texture added to Kevin’s guitar trips. Deceptively simple this is a wall of sound that sounds deceptively layered to perfection.
Fresh from his creative sandpit Kevin Shields is doing that mind blowing tremolo thing on his guitar creating those mind melting, bendy guitar noises that are so much part of the mbv sound. You watch his hands and it just does not correlate, like Keith Levene from Public Image the sound seems to be pouring out of somewhere else as it’s almost casually thrown into the room. Theses are the weird and wonderful sounds that appear from nowhere and fly out with a deceptive lack of effort.
Shields spends most of the set stood stock still, deep in stoic concentration surrounded by his collection of vintage amps which unusually point sideways across the stage, to his left Bilinda Butcher belies her doe eyed presence with her riffing guitar and those great vocals that really gave the band that much needed switch in flavour when she joined all those years ago. The fact that you can hardly hear her is unimportant, you can feel the melody as she coos out her singing across perfectly constructed wall of sound.
Somehow, they never lose their punk rock heart and this could be down to the rhythm section, Debbie Googe pays tough and her profile, as she stands sideways on stage is statuesque as she becomes the riff. She is one tough bass player and hammers down the spine, locking in tight with wonder drummer Colm O’Ciosoig who still belies his skinny frame with his flailing that still makes him one of the great drummers of his era.
His drumming switches from the almost basic kinda hip hop/kinda indie dance patterns that defined his Loveless lost years to those falling down the stairs workouts when his controls the wild rhythms that clatter through some of the band’s more crescendo songs like on Honey Power, which sounds fearsome tonight with the drums in full effect.
It’s no wonder, as Colm explains after the show, that he has to do yoga before he plays these days- even that can’t explain the dexterity and energy required to kick out these kinda jams and it’s still stunning the power that this elfin drummer can provide from behind his kit.
Third song in the set, New You, rides in one of these simpler stripped down beats and is the closest that the band to have to a conventional single on the new mbv album, with those bittersweet melodies floating just beneath the surface and somehow hooking you in. They are joined on stage by their occasional keyboard player who provides a pad for the sound the to fire off from. Debbie’s bass is at its most brutal and sounds nice and heavy and punctuates the song as the band hit a powerful groove under their glide guitar wash.
This is a band that certainly does not play by the rules- thank fuck.
On stage at Manchester’s Apollo the band’s mesmerising songs and killer light show combine to make them the best trip out there. This really is mind blowing stuff and the deceptively clever songs pull off that toughest of tricks- creating a wall of sound that is not noise, the perfect melodies are buried just beneath the surface that make you work at digging them out. This is music from the twilight zone of night and day, sex and death, straight or stoned- the bits in between where all the interesting stuff happens.
I love the way the singing is hidden into the mass of sound, a sound that is is distinctive that it seems pathetic that the band are lumped in with the so called shoegaze bands- My Bloody Valentine may have created misunderstood template that was dreamt up in Shield’s head but the copyists missed so much when they raided the mbv sound for inspiration.
Long term watchers of the band will understand that they came from the firebrand noise underground of the early eighties, the desperate squat and dole bedsit world of the Thatcher underclass. These were times when musicians lived off the dole and starved for their art. That gave you an intense discipline and steely resolve and if it was going to take years to release a new album then that’s the way it was. The Valentines were always part of this underground and their noise and independence is so much part of that period, their neat trick was to somehow add classic melodies to this and the new album is a continuation of this exploration with many of the new tracks slotting perfectly into the set tonight.
There is much discussion about how loud mbv are but as anyone who has stood next to Lemmy’s amp or has gone to metal gigs it’s just a level of loudness. People have their fingers in their ears and look a bit uncomfortable but then many of them have probably never been to the decibel crunching world of metal. Of course it goes on for a long time but, like Swans, there is something oddly hypnotic about its ever climaxing wall of sound that keeps piling on and on before kicking back into the song’s main riff- one of the great riffs in rock n roll that trashed many indie discos a couple of decades ago.
You Made Me Realise was the moment when mbv went from being underground outsiders to a new kind of mainstream. The song, which was soaked in an avalanche of noise and power and with that killer riff and oozing sexiness is one of the perfect documents of those woozy times when the E’s were affecting more than acid house and the haze of the great chemical rush of the era was soaked into the DNA of all kinds of music.
The noise section in the middle, whilst being brilliant, is almost a distraction from the song’s innate brilliance but then the distortion is everything and a nod back to the band’s noise roots.
In many ways this should be the full stop on the set, the wall of sound and the great riff crashing back in on the band’s best known song but the beauty of mbv is that they are not playing by the rules and seconds later the train like rhythm loop of new song, Wonder 2 comes thundering out of the PA.
Colm comes down from behind his kit to join the rest of the band on guitar as they build up the enveloping wall of sound on what is one of the real stand out tracks from the new album. As it builds and builds the song is like no other and a true climax to a show where mbv prove that to sell out places like the Apollo you certainly don’t have to play by anybody’s rules.
There is no encore, how could there be? it would feel totally out of place to return with a smile to an audience stunned by the power and get all showbiz after the intense roller-coaster of sound of the last one hour plus.
Tonight is a triumph for the band, their new songs sit seamlessly into the set and the trifling problem of getting that new album accepted and to for the band operate on a more normal time scale for a group that always seemed to defy time is willingly accepted.
I Only Said
When You Sleep
You Never Should
Cigarette in Your Bed
Come in Alone
Nothing Much to Lose
To Here Knows When
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realise