I've been to more gigs than I can actually count. I've seen a few hundred bands now, and lost the actual number some time in the late Nineties. Some were good, some were bad, some so good that they made an imaginary top twenty in my head, some so bad that I ditched their records afterwards. But many were somewhere in the middle in an almighty scrum of grey, so-so time changes, predictable choruses, middleweight softcore euphoria.
Perhaps My Bloody Valentine were never going to fall into the middle category, but in my head, I wasn't sure that they'd crack the top twenty. Even three shows into an extensive comeback tour, they still seemed a little edgy, ring rusty if you like. A false start three songs in gave them away, puzzled glances to Colm the drummer as he counted them in again.
Kevin Shields had shirked off the portly country bumpkin look he'd affected during his stint with Primal Scream, and looked as healthy as I could have imagined him. His haircut has improved dramatically, and this has taken years off him. The rest of the band have also aged suprisingly well, but I felt for the drummer as he hammered away through the set. He dropped a beat here and there, and looked relieved to see the final song roll into view.
What people will tell you about the MBV live show is that it is Loud. And they're not lying, because it is. Very. It's also not ideal for a photosensitive epileptic, with strobes and films with repetitive sequences timed to the tempo of the song they accompany. There's a particularly jarring one half way through for featuring a girl running from what appears to be an orgy, down a hallway and dropping through a hole in the floor. Sometimes the film is flipped 90 degrees when she falls, causing her to fall through the right of the screen. As a spectacle, it's beautifully done, creating an uncanny event that can't be looked away from. Just this one impressive visual separates their show from the coagulating mass of bands in my head. It was not alone, with many expertly crafted audio visual experiences scattered throughout the set. Add to this a revered band with really solid back catalogue to draw from, and the fervour of the crowd, and you have a fine show in the offing.
'You made me realise' rolls around, after a sterling 'Feed me with your kiss' and 'Sue is fine' that I spend the majority of at the overcrowded, understaffed bar. The Roundhouse erupts with cheers, clapping, adulation expressed via traditional means. Then, halfway through their last song, the jam/sonic experiment labelled The Holocaust by old school MBV fans drowns everything out. For twenty five minutes, as is their custom, as is their way, My Bloody Valentine supplicate themselves at the altar of noise. As the band pound at their instruments, hitting the same notes repeatedly, getting a steady rhythm, a strange effect occurs.
The volume rises to the level of a plane taking off, and stays there. The repeated strokes on the instruments are translated into pure sound, percussive waves hitting your chest via airborne vibrations, bass rising up through your feet. Even with earplugs, the howling banshee attack left my ears ringing for a day. Looking around, members of the crowd are entranced, some seeming to almost meditate within a serene calm, eyes closed. Others without earplugs cover their ears as the pain kicks in. Everyone experiences this extreme volume on an extremely personal level, and as an event, some reviewers seem to regard it as bordering upon a kind of sonic epiphany. I can't say I share this view, but it does take their show to a level that other bands in the indie realm can't go. It's a further reason to set them apart from others, because the shows is an actual physical experience that places you squarely in one place, in one time in your mind.
You will always remember it.
Photo credits - Kevin Shields (Lucy Johnston / See other great shots from this show here ) Setlist held by Ally - Mine.