Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Ears Are Still Ringing

Originally published in the New York Press on September 23, 2008

Earlier this year, former Creations Records honcho Alan McGee labeled the My Bloody Valentine reunion tour “nostalgic cabaret,” presumably an insult. And while McGee—the man who apparently lost his finely tailored shirt resulting from extended recording sessions for seminal album Loveless—may not offer an unbiased opinion, there’s still some truth in what he says.

The classic My Bloody Valentine lineup played the first of two shows at Roseland Ballroom on Monday night, hot off the heels of its Catskills triumph at All Tomorrow’s Parties. And while the band’s setlist picks up where it left off before going on a long hiatus in the early ‘90s, it was so ahead of its time back then, that maybe its taken all this time for us to catch up.

Ideally, one could avoid the cliche of speaking about the volume when recalling a My Bloody Valentine show. It’s in every review, and this isn’t going to be any different. And to be fair, earplugs were being handed out at the door.

Hours later, my ears are still ringing, though not to the point of distraction.

On record, My Bloody Valentine is a collage of sound, shimmering samples here, guitar wizardry there, vocals a hushed tickle up the spine buried somewhere deep within the mix. Live, the dynamics are mostly the same, though amped up well past 11. Even in cavernous Roseland, the sound hits everywhere.

Classics like Loveless-opener “Only Shallow” and “Feed Me With Your Kiss” are ferociously beautiful, like receiving flowers on the front of a freight train. The wall of sound was so forceful, it was like being lifted off the ground, only to crash back down when the music ended.

Kevin Shields, the band’s Brian Wilson-esque resident genius, offered little in the way of stage banter, though it didn’t much matter. It all came out as gibberish, lost in the internal echoes of the prior song turning one’s skull to dust.

With the sonic velocity of the guitars, vocals were even more lost than usual, a minor quibble when the music is familiar enough to hear them in phantom form. And with the band mostly bathed only in the light of a series of song-specific collages, and their haircuts pretty much the same as they were the last time they hit U.S. stages more than 15 years ago, it was easy to immerse one’s self in nostalgia, even if it’s, as McGee said, a bit of cabaret.

Even with aural protection readily available, there were many in the sold out crowd who were caught unawares, holding their hands over their ears. At no point was this more apparent than during set closer, “You Made Me Realise” an early single that features a brief white noise interlude. That section of the song became notorious during the band’s initial heyday, as it would stretch it out to agonizing length. At Roseland on Monday, the white noise was a brutal 20-minute assault, overwhelming the sound of countless jaws hitting the floor.

Where My Bloody Valentine go from here is anyone’s guess. [Following the tour, MBV plans to head to the studio to finally record the follow up to their now legendary '91 release Loveless.] But for now, it’s worth having the band come back to remind us why it mattered to long ago, and why it still does in its own way.