The Return of My Bloody Valentine
Sept. 23, 2008 – Day of days. My Bloody Valentine live at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC for the second of two sold-out shows, on their first tour since 1992. My greatest teenage ambition realized as I witnessed the event I’d waited 15 years to see. Oh yes, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
My Bloody Valentine was my first real love. I only have vague memories of my first kiss but I can tell you exactly where I first heard Loveless or the transcendental moment when it all clicked. I even remember buying it, from Camelot Music at the mall, along with Sinead O’Connor’s The Lion and The Cobra. To make a long story short, it’s the album that changed my life, became my barometer for all future music, and opened my mind, etc.
Even though I missed their tour for Loveless I was sure it was only a matter of time until a follow-up was released and I would have the chance to see them live. As the years went by I kept holding out this hope. By about 1998 I realized it was probably a lost cause, even though rumors and the occasional remix or one-off track kept trickling out. By 2003 or so I realized I had been delusional in 1998 and the dream was over in 1992.
Fast forward to present day and the news that My Bloody Valentine was back together (I don’t think they ever technically broke up, though) with a new tour, and maybe even a new album. When the NYC shows were announced, you know I bought a ticket with a quickness. (Side note, fuck ticketmaster and their decision to charge me a service fee for printing out my own tickets).
And on Tuesday, it was finally the day I had been anxiously awaiting for 15 years. I picked up some earplugs (more on this later) and made my way to the Roseland Ballroom, giddy as a schoolgirl. I got there around 30 minutes after the doors opened people were already lining up in front of the stage. I doubt that anyone in the crowd that night particularly wanted to see an opening act, and I was fearing the worst after hearing that the openers the night before involved acoustic guitars and flutes. So I was pleasantly surprised then when the lights dimmed and out walked Kurt “Wally” Heasley and his band Lilys.
I have always liked this band, and as far as bands opening for My Bloody Valentine go, this seemed fitting, considering that their first album, In The Presence of Nothing was decent attempt to copy Loveless. They ended up playing a decent set marred by the notoriously shitty sound of the Roseland. Since they were opening for My Bloody Valentine, I was really hoping they were going to play some of their older, err, MBV-esque songs but they stuck mainly with newer material. Overall, the crowd was indifferent, which was a shame, but I can’t really blame them as we all knew what was coming.
At the close of his set, Mr. Heasley told (warned?) the crowd to “center their chi” and “get ready to be pummeled”. That brought a smile to my face, and as he walked off the stage and the roadies began swapping equipment I realized that the guitars he was bringing out belonged to Kevin f’ing Shields. During the break, I noticed that almost everyone stood where they were, unlike the usual mass exodus to the bar for a drink or the exit for a smoke that occurs between sets. Goddamn, this was exciting.
During the break I counted the amps on the stage (14 heads, 12 cabinets), tried to identify all the guitars (Jazzmasters, Jaguars, Mustangs, and a Charvel Surfcaster) and silently cursed the two 6’5″ dudes who decided to stand directly in front of me. The lights once again dimmed and a hush went over the crowd. Amazing pictures of lightning were flashed on the black backdrop as strobe lights intermittently flared. I held my breath… and then let it out because nothing was happening. “The Drawback” by Joy Division played over the PA. It ended… and nothing. A beautiful disco song I didn’t recognize played over the PA. It ended, the crowd cheered…. and nothing happened. The same song played again. It ended. The crowd was wising up and didn’t cheer quite as loud. “Wicked Annabella” by the Kinks came on, ended, and… well you know the drill. This seemed to go on for hours. I started panicking. What if the band were fighting and the whole tour was going to be called off? Just when it seemed hopeless, the music on the PA faded out and I saw four people walk out on stage.
They picked up their instruments, Kevin said “hello”, Colm hit his sticks together and then straight into “I Only Said” at the speed of sound. There were strobe lights flashing, there were beautiful and overwhelming images being projected on the backdrop, and then there was the sound. All-enveloping, all consuming. “Loud” doesn’t begin to describe it. It filled up every inch of space in the room and it was glorious. It felt like I could taste it.
The song selection was entirely from Isn’t Anything, Loveless, and the You Made Me Realise EP (full setlist). Even when Shields picked up an acoustic guitar for “Cigarette In Your Bed” the sound was immense. The two guitar players/vocalists stood on either end of the stage and lived up to the shoegazing label by generally not moving. Bassist Deb Googe and drummer Colm O’Ciosoig, on the other hand, attacked their instruments with a fury. The contrast reminded me of what I like about MBV in the first place, the dual nature of the band’s music – fury, chaos, beauty and calm. An interviewer once asked Kevin Shields if the live show was “closer to self-assertion, or self-obliteration?” He replied “It’s both. It’s everything.”
Every moment of the show was amazing but none more so than the noise holocaust which closed the show. For the uninitiated, that’s the name people have given to the “bridge” during the song “You Made Me Realise” where historically the band would offer up a bit of a noise-freakout. That night, it was 15 minutes (yes, I timed it) of roaring guitars, screeching feedback, crashing cymbals, and strobe lights that formed a solid wall of sound that you could literally feel. The air was vibrating and I almost felt weightless. The hairs on my arm were tingling and it felt like my chest felt like it was going to explode, but in a good way. I felt like David Bowman at the end of 2001, travelling through the cosmos. I imagine this would be the noise if you were in a slow-motion avalanche taking down half of Mount Everest, or maybe sitting at the base of Niagara Falls. I can’t really do it justice, but suffice it say that I wished it lasted another hour. When the band finally broke back into the song and ended with the whispered lyrics “you made me realise” I couldn’t help but think that I should be saying it to them.