After the hype surrounding the release of the new My Bloody Valentine album, there was not quite so much clamor to see the band live – this gig was not a sell-out – although I did see one unhealthy looking youngster in a Sonic Youth t-shirt being led out before the band had even taken to the stage, the excitement apparently too much for him.
And we could indeed have been transported into a scene depicted in a particular Sonic Youth song, with Marshall stacks filling just about every inch of the stage that was not taken up by the band itself. My Bloody Valentine are known for being loud, but ear-plugs were not needed on this occasion, and in fact there were even one or two ironic cries of “louder” and “turn it up”!
The band came on dressed all in black, the waifish, spectral appearance of the front two, Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields, in opposition to the spectrum of colours depicted behind them, and belying the abrasive cacophony produced by their instruments. Debbie Googe, positioned slightly further upstage, was a little more animated, and for the most part in profile; immediately behind her was drummer, Colm Ó Cíosóig.
As it turned out, slightly disappointingly, just 3 songs from the new album were played. Loveless was the most favoured album, with the distinctive samples from this record that sound like some kind of fairground flute. There were also at least 5 songs that I was unfamiliar with – they could have been their own reworkings of Carpenters songs for all I knew, although casting an eye through the already online setlist from the night, these included 3 songs from the Made Me Realise EP, which I don’t own, but which I’m sure pleased MBV aficionados.
It was an odd crowd, a lot of straggly hair as you might imagine, but a few mystified looks from the less well initiated, and mostly fairly static. Knowing the words did not seem to be expected. As the scene which this band was a part of was associated with Oxford’s spires, I expect the average IQ of this audience was substantially higher than that of, say, an Oasis concert, but as this was an extremely sensory experience, intellect was no guarantee of being able to better comprehend or gain enjoyment from the event.
High points for me included To Here Knows When, where Bilinda’s incessant “oohs” almost had me welling up. Despite now being in her 50s, she is still quite dishy, it has to be said. Soon, the band’s token “indie dance” effort got a few more people moving, although it sticks out a little, in the way that Fool’s Gold does in a Stone Roses set. Of course, no MBV gig would be complete without the “white out” section of You Made Me Realise. At Cardiff Ice Rink in 1992, during this section, I puffed on a joint while swaying my head throughout (it was also rumoured that a couple in the crowd had sex at this gig); in London in 2008, I crowd-surfed. Tonight, I felt no more urge than to just jump up and down a bit, and also, quite ostentatiously time the sequence. Tonight it clocked in at a little over 8 and a half minutes – pretty good going, and quite long enough to have a quick shag, I suppose. Just as I have wondered if it would be possible to sing one chant at a football match for a full 90 minutes, I wonder if the band have ever considered keeping the noise section of this song going for, I don’t know, an hour maybe?
They finished with what is also the closing track of the new album, Wonder 2. If indie music has, to some extent, become a bit mainstream – you hardly even hear the term indie used any more, the rather insipid term “guitar band” being preferred – here is a band still defiantly wide of the corporate mark. With no drums on the closing track, just something like a sampled jet engine as “percussion”, drummer Colm comes down to play guitar on this one. All sorts of bands are cropping up on soundtracks and adverts these days, but here is one band that still sticks its fingers up to commercialism – use that for your cheese spread ad, they might say.