LIVE: My Bloody Valentine
September 25, 2008
If you take a couple of normal folks and put them in front of a loud Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band, the ensuing noise will likely shake them out of their vanilla lives into fits of dancing. At a certain level, it’s not even about whether the band are any good, so much as it’s about the normies having this genuine “I’ve-never-felt-like-this-before” gut response to facing blasting rhythmic noise.
Pack a couple thousand hipsters into a warehouse space and crank waves of feedback at them, and they basically turn into your uncle Stan marking out to “Suzie Q” in the exact same way. I know because that was pretty much the reaction on Thursday night to My Bloody Valentine’s return to a Toronto stage after a 16-year absence.
Yeah, I’m in total agreement with everyone else: Loveless is a wonderful record. And I spent many hours zoning out to that album in the early ’90s. Unfortunately, My Bloody Valentine’s live show — which is built upon the foundations of a) being really fucking loud and b) featuring undulating pulses of piercing white noise — stomps out any of the subtlety and nuance that make MBV great on your home stereo.
Sure, it made for a truly magical and unique marriage of sonics when the melody lines of “Only Shallow” or “I Only Said” would rise above the racket. And when the riffs of “Come In Alone” smashed into you, it was with a fascinating and breath-shortening physical force. These were moments I can’t even imagine a band not named My Bloody Valentine being able to evoke. But if you were hoping to actually sing along to Kevin Shields or Bilinda Butcher, you would’ve been shit out of luck, what with their vocals essentially acting like bird chirps in a sonic hurricane.
Probably more disconcerting, though, was that when you entered the Kool Haus, a very fatherly and concerned security guard handed out earplugs to everyone and warned “you’re going to need them.”
Was nobody else actually offended that the baseline volume of a band was going to be so high the venue staff actually felt the need to warn people what they were getting into (no doubt to absolve themselves of liability for blown ears)? Seriously, what exactly is the goal of having that level of volume?
Mythbusters says “the brown note” doesn’t exist, so trying to make your audience shit their pants is out. But causing vomiting (which we’ve got at least one confirmed report of from last night) and fainting (which happened to a former Chart editor at MBV’s Opera House gig in 1992) were no doubt in the cards. Throw in the overpowering spastic flashes of that light show — a sensation that felt not unlike getting poked in the eye 10 times a second — and it leads me to believe the band were looking to evoke epileptic seizures, too.
Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure this whole exercise was an act of sonic sadism on the part of My Bloody Valentine — a twisted game where the band earned sparkly badges for every throw-up or person cowering with their back to the stage and hands covering their ears.
Basically, if you went to this show, you got gimmicked. What My Bloody Valentine did was no different than Gwar spewing blood on to a crowd or some hardcore band encouraging a violent circle pit. MBV’s tactic was “be really loud.” And they certainly were. But 20 per cent less volume and 10 per cent more subtlety would have made a 30 per cent better show. And if you think differently, you’re probably like uncle Stan leaving his house for the first time in 10 years and encountering rock ‘n’ roll.
Fuck you, My Bloody Valentine.
This story was originally published September 26, 2008 via Chart Communications.