The only way to describe my feelings in the lead up to the long awaited return of My Bloody Valentine to Scottish shores is a mix of trepidation, expectation and a sense of the unknown. This band is held in extremely high regard by their reverent fans. At a mere 21 years, I had only just come into the world when their seminal second LP Loveless was released and after a shock third record was sprung upon the salivating indie world in the form of m b v, this was an even more curious live show to be going into. I had only heard “things” about what a My Bloody Valentine gig entailed, and, for once in my relatively short gig attending life, I really did not know what to expect.
After receiving ear plugs and taking up a spot in the middle of the Barrowlands ballroom, it was hard not to notice a sort of whispery excitement. Of course, the room was packed, even more so than the recent Alabama Shakes gig or the pre-Hogmanay warm up show by hometown favourites Primal Scream, so these anxious murmurs created a buzz of noise that was noticeably louder than these other shows. However, this was in stark contrast to what greeted the crowd at the sight of the band. After what can only be described as a very humble entrance by Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher, Debbie Googe and Colm O Ciosoig, a simple hello from the Irish frontman and one of the most endearing welcomes by any Glasgow crowd ever witnessed, the guitars screeched and wailed and exploded in to a concise set. This place went, suddenly, from pleasantly civilised to ear-splittingly anarchic. The band blasted through a career spanning series of tracks heavy on highlights from Loveless with a couple from their new album thrown in.
The real thing to take away from this concert, if it can be so described, is the noise. I have never heard a band so loud, a band so capable of recreating the wall of noise that appeared on record so truly in a live setting. The sound was not so unbearably loud that the ear plugs were needed…until ‘You Made Me Realise’. To say that this was unexpected is a massive understatement. The song started, as on record, with the main guitar riff and cooed vocals which My Bloody Valentine are renowned for. Then came the infamous “holocaust section” where the collective play a single note over and over for an extended period. Hearing about this is no comparison to actually hearing it. It’s even pretty hard to describe. Time seemed to implode upon itself (I believe this section went on for roughly 15 minutes, but, I should stress, it was hard to tell). The noise was so unflinching and relentless. I inserted the plugs into my ears. This merely dampened the sound. Ten minutes later I removed them, out of sheer morbid curiosity, to a howl of white noise. The floor shook, and the Barrowlands felt like it was about to take off and jettison into the atmosphere above. And then, all of a sudden, the white noise collapsed in on itself and the riff appeared out of the rubble as if it had never left. The band finished their oral assault and left. Only to appear again for an encore of Wonder 2 from m b v which had similar properties to the previous track except that it sounded like the jet engine was on stage rather than within the venue itself. It was a truly memorable experience which I will never forget.
It was not a perfect gig. There were times when the members of the band were out of time with each other in the introduction to a song, at which point Shields would turn to Colm with an annoyed look (although Colm’s drumming was generally exceptional and a highlight of the gig). This was most obvious in the beginning to Only Shallow which, as a personal favourite, was annoyingly messed up. Moreover, one of the greatest strengths of My Bloody Valentine on record was the ability of the melodies and vocals to break through the stream of distorted guitars and feedback. On the night, the vocals were so low down in the mix (a characteristic of the band, admittedly) that sometimes this ability was lost. However, the overall quality of the playing, the songs, the willingness to churn out favourites and the length of time it had been since these people had been able to come witness their heroes in the flesh and noise meant that the crowd was extremely forgiving. These mistakes were not overly apparent and it would be harsh to say that anyone was let down.
My Bloody Valentine is such an influential and important band in the history of indie music. To finally witness these timeless tunes in a live environment was always going to be somewhat disconcerting. This was not a gig in the traditional sense of the word – you could not really dance; you could not really sing along – it was an experience, one that will be remembered by this reviewer for a long time and one that will stand out above shows with better playing, a better atmosphere and a more personal touch by the act on stage. And this is because, while the gig was not flawless, the heart and soul and exhilarating spirit of the recorded music was physically present. All that could be done was let it wash over you and be engulfed by it.
Photo: Melodie Mesiano