When My Bloody Valentine step on stage, you feel like history is being made, for the back story of this tour is an unusually compelling one.
Having formed way back in 1983 and made some of that decade’s most singular and inspired music on Isn’t Anything,they followed up with the even more brilliant Loveless in 1991, almost bankrupting their record label and setting an unreachable landmark whose untouchable reputation only grew during the two decades of near silence that have followed.
Since then rumours of a follow-up to Loveless have swirled and returns were prophesised but precious little actually materialised.
Tantalisingly, what new material did surface in the form of Kevin Shields’ rare but fruitful collaborations and his contributions to the Lost in Translation soundtrack were exceptional, suggesting the sparks of visionary genius that fired Loveless had not been snuffed out.
Given the years of absence, it’s a surprise to be seeing them at all, so the novelty of actually having them onstage could be stronger than the thrill of hearing them play.
Thankfully though, the real-life My Bloody Valentine prove more than a match for the idea ofthe band and from the opening notes of ‘I Only Said’ there’s a sense of relief that the sound is just right; the famously gauzy guitars of Shields and the somehow still youthful looking Bilinda Butcher providing an instant gateway to shoegaze heaven.
They’re really quite loud. In the earlier years, there were apparently doctors urging people not to see them in the interests of preserving their health.
While probably not playing at such dangerous levels these days, the ear plugs they’re handing out at the door are not just for show with many of the songs tipping the scales at a solid 100 decibels or so.
Amazingly, there’s next to nothing from the immense and satisfying new record m b v, their first full-length in over 20 years, though the beautiful and distinctive ‘New You’ stands out with its faint leanings to a more pop sensibility.
A sonic outlier in a set which settles into a consistently dreamy mood, it already seems cemented as a fan favourite.
Most of the setlist instead comprises the storied classics of Loveless and Isn’t Anything, along with surprising inclusions like ‘Thorn’ and ‘Cigarette In Your Bed’, both B-sides of incendiary single ‘You Made Me Realise’.
It’s much the same set they played at their ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror performance, but after waiting for years to see them and never really expecting this return to ever happen, nobody is complaining about overfamiliarity.
More Loveless tracks fly by: ‘Come in Alone’, ‘Soon’, ‘Only Shallow’, all peerless mood pieces which see savagery and beauty sit side by side.
Every second group seems influenced by this aesthetic, but no band had ever made noise sound so incredibly comforting, so impossibly pretty.
Often there seems a complete disconnect between their exertion and the noise produced, with an enveloping, thickly atmospheric fog of wailing noise seemingly being made from little more than light strumming.
The vocals are way down in the mix throughout, indistinct words and sugary melodies artfully obscured and submerged deep beneath crashing waves of guitar.
Some people see fit to yell at someone to turn up the vocals, which seems like going to a production of Waiting For Godot and shouting at the performers to hurry it up a bit.
The penultimate song ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ is absolutely ferocious, a reminder that My Bloody Valentine can be as punishing and intense as any metal band. But even this seems like a mere warm-up for the scorched earth intensity of ‘You Made Me Realise’, still perhaps their greatest moment and the song that closes most of their sets, which is saved to last.
As indistinct shapes and shadowy figures swirl around on the projections, the song evolves into a truly punishing 15-minute long burst of white noise (sometimes referred to as the ‘Holocaust section’ by fans).
Audience members start jamming their fingers into orifices already blocked by earplugs as a single chord is repeated with manic, machine-like intensity. When they finally return to something resembling the song, it’s easy to forget where you’ve been.
The ringing in your ears will subside, but the memory of this improbable and thrilling return will be hard to forget. When they do decide to play the m b v songs (possibly some time in the 2030s) you’ll want to be there.
They remain the best possible way to have your hearing slowly destroyed.
Originally appeared in: Tone Deaf