Thursday, April 23, 2009

It List: Thursday and My Bloody Valentine Review

If you've been reading reviews of last night's My Bloody Valentine show on message boards, blogs and blog comment sections today, you've probably noticed two recurring themes amongst all the chatter: the first is the show's sheer volume, which was as overpowering as expected, and the second is the surprisingly physical experience of the band's now signature finale, "You Made Me Realise," which was perhaps the most intense performance of any song I've ever seen live, including the last time I saw the group play. Of course, these two aspects of last night's performance were certainly the most immediately arresting and probably the most important to the vast majority of those in attendance (myself included), but what hasn't been discussed in great detail thus far is how much sense this all makes when you consider My Bloody Valentine's approach to both songwriting and recording.

It should be said at the outset that the performance was truly transcendent, and easily the best large venue show I've ever seen in Dallas. Although concerns about the sometimes muddy sound at the Palladium had me wondering whether the Dallas audience would experience the sheer power and clarity that I had heard during their performance last fall in San Francisco, I discovered that the Palladium's sound actually topped that of the SF Concourse's in both volume and quality, allowing the auditory force to be overwhelming while retaining an admirable amount of the melodic clarity that made My Bloody Valentine perplexing and important in the first place. Although the first couple of songs seemed to be a bit quieter, comparatively speaking, than initially expected, it seemed that the volume increased with every song throughout the set, culminating, of course, in the finale that appeared to be shaking almost all in the audience to their core.

The band covered territory very similar, and in fact almost identical to what they've performed at their other recent North American dates, with Loveless favorites such as "Only Shallow," "When You Sleep," and of course "Soon," which is probably the closest thing the band has ever had to a hit given its pronounced, almost danceable drum beat and the catchy guitar carrying the track all the way through. They also tackled "Slow," from the You Made Me Realize EP, as well as Isn't Anything favorites "Cupid Come" and "(When You Wake) You're Still In a Dream," among others, emphasizing how much more conventional their earlier material was compared to their output on Loveless, as well as how powerfully they can perform such relatively straight forward rock songs in a live setting, rendering even those tracks something other than a straight guitar rock experience. All of these songs bordered on a physical sensation as vibrations filled the room and ears were pressed to their limits, and many hinted at the theme that I couldn't get out of my mind throughout the night-- that the volume level at MBV's live shows is completely necessary, and perhaps the only way to properly convey the fact that much of the group's material seems to be most easily digested not as rock songs, but almost more as the IDEA of rock songs. Melodies are hinted at but not thrown in the listener's face, rhythms are apparent and strong (the drumming on MBV records seems to be wildly underappreciated) but almost never emphasized or maintained as a focal point, and overall song structures are relatively traditional at their core yet given so much room to breathe that the listener can focus on particular parts of a song while losing track of others, allowing the music to fade in and out, bend, change, and then come back around to be appreciated as a complete piece, all at the will of and within the mind of individual listeners. In other words, much of their material straddles a line between form and formless, almost hinting at what the listener should hear or directing the audience instead of dictating to it. And as one sits there, taking it all in, the experience becomes more subjective and almost introverted, and the emotions inspired by the sounds seem like they could be almost as diverse as the faces in the crowd. And of course, without the overwhelming volume and composition of the sound in the venue and the effects and techniques emphasized by the band to create lush atmospheres and beautiful, intimidating walls of sound, the borderline chaos of the event would be lost, and the listener's imagination and subjective listening experience would be limited in where it was permitted to take the music. The beauty of My Bloody Valentine has always been found in their ability to push structure to the limits of chaos, and there is no other way that this could truly be experienced live without the punishing sound and confusing visuals to take the whole package to another level.

All of this, of course, lead up to their now famous 15 minute noise assault during "You Made Me Realize." The sound system absolutely roared at a level that has never, in my experience, been touched by any other band playing in this area, and everyone in the audience could literally feel it throughout their bodies. At first it was violent, harsh and even oppressive as listeners got used to hearing something louder and perhaps more formless than most had ever heard before, but after several minutes, as one WSJR commentator eloquently alluded to earlier, the noise became peaceful and almost reflective, and the experience of hearing it began to border on direct sensory and psychological stimulation rather than some form of consumable entertainment, complete with an essential set of visuals that made parts of the stage appear to move when they weren't, and mimicked the kind of sensory overload that allows the subconscious to move closer to the forefront of the human mind, again allowing the subjective experience of each listener to play a much more important role than it usually does when one hears more traditional forms of music being performed at reasonable volumes.

Yes, this all sounds a little cheesy, and some might even wonder whether it is an exaggeration, but most in attendance will probably confirm a similar experience, and besides, My Bloody Valentine's music, along with the necessarily powerful sound of their live performances, made the entire experience a revelatory and intensely personal one, which seems to go along with everything I felt the first time Loveless played through a pair of my headphones.

(Photos by Layla Blackshear for WSJR. We'll post the full set in our photo section some time this evening.)

As far as shows tonight, here are a few:

Dr. Dog/Cave Singers/Golden Boots (The Loft)

Top Notch Thursdays with Sober and HI-C(The Cavern)

Wild in the Streets (Amsterdam)

Find more on our show calendar.


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