Live review: Bloody great Valentine
Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. (Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)
Nostalgia isn't always just about a blast from the past. Etymologically, the term is rooted in nostos, the Greek word for homecoming; "nostalgia" was coined somewhere around the 17th century as an expression to convey the psychic pain of pining for home. Keeping that in mind, last night's My Bloody Valentine show was a total nostalgia trip, but not in the campy retro sense of the phrase. Rather, from the breathtaking light show to the thunderous waves of keening, distortion heavy guitars, the first Toronto show by the iconic '90s shoegaze act in 16 years felt like a triumphant, long-awaited return, a journey back to when all was right and good in rock 'n' roll.
My Bloody Valentine released a mere two albums before the cusp of this millennium. The second, 1991's Loveless, became a cult artefact, a swirling mass of beautiful noise and dreamy, obscured vocals that were imitated by generations of knock-off acts, none of whom ever managed to master the same stunning balance of spun-sugar melody and splintering, abrasive feedback achieved by notoriously reclusive MBV mastermind Kevin Shields. After Loveless (which, as the story goes, basically bankrupted their record label, Creation) MBV called it quits, just as shoegaze -- the genre they arguably pioneered -- was starting to get a foothold in the popular consciousness. Whether or not they inspired thousands of second-rate style-biting wannabes, My Bloody Valentine were always more than just a shoegaze act.
A technical obsessive and sound sculptor, Shields reportedly spent nearly half a million bucks on the gear for this reunion jaunt, fixated on getting the perfectly right -- and perfectly loud. It paid off. As promised, bored-looking minions were positioned at the entrance to Toronto's Kool Haus, doling out free earplugs as each person entered. Those who opted out of the tinnitus prevention tool were foolish.
In general, the Kool Haus is not kind to bands. It's basically a echoing warehouse space, gussied up with raver-friendly black lights and a couple bars. The ceiling is all ducts and rafters, and though they may have installed a state-of-the-art sound system, you wouldn't know it based on the way the club's crappy acoustics distort even the best bands' sound. But somehow, because MBV rely so heavily on carefully-crafted echoes and overlaps, the glorified tin can of a venue served them well.
From the first siren-like wails of opening track I Only Said, you felt like you were submerged in a thick, woolly blanket of pure sound, one that extended to the furthest reaches of all humanly audible frequencies. The intense guitar noise, which all but drowned out Bilinda Butcher's vocals (an intentional move) was matched by a spectacular visual presentation -- pure washes of lights in deep indigo and crimson, and choppy video loops with oversaturated colour, reminiscent of old music videos from the early 90s. Looking around at the sold-out club, the crowd was a sea of back-lit silhouettes, nodding and swaying en masse while the air vibrated from the roar of multi-tracked, effects-skewed guitar and bass. It was hard not to feel as though you'd fallen through some sort of wormhole and entered a parallel dimension that only existed within the pages of RayGun magazine. Simply magnificent.
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