It’s difficult to assess something that shouldn’t be. My Bloody Valentine hadn’t released an album in over twenty years until earlier this year, when vocalist, guitarist, and bandleader Kevin Shields made m b v available late on a Saturday evening in February.
This album was a culmination of a recording process that started seventeen years ago, and the band’s reunion tour was a first opportunity to hear them present the material, new or otherwise. Shields, however, had other ideas.
The concert, at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory, began with three songs off their classic album Loveless. The low-end crunch of “Sometimes” sent rumbles of bass and distortion throughout the venue, overpowering the vocals from Bilinda Butcher. Then, after what was to be one of many false starts to a song, the band launched into “I Only Said.” Colm Ó Cíosóig’s crushing drums stood out above the wall of noise created by Butcher, Shields, bassist Debbie Googe. and Jen Marco, a touring guitarist and keyboardist. “When You Sleep” was an early standout; a Beach Boys song run through consecutive filters of C86-style jangle, John Hughes’ films, and a punishing roar of guitar squalls. A wall of amplifiers dwarfed Shields, stage left, and early in the set he retreated into them as if they were a cocoon.
The mellow, for My Bloody Valentine, “New You” followed, the first song they played off the new album. Ó Cíosóig’s Madchester-style breakbeat continued to serve a reminder that under the noise, the band has a diverse palette to draw from.
Yet Shields was unhappy with some of the technical aspects of the show, and it showed. He missed one of Cíosóig’s drum counts. Googe’s bass and Butcher’s low-end D, A, and E notes made some of the vocals unintelligible, and during “Come In Alone” Shields stopped in the middle to change guitars. It is unclear whether this was an error on his part, or on one of the guitar techs. These mistakes rattled Shields, someone who is such a perfectionist that he waits twenty-two years between releasing albums. Whatever sounds he was making with his guitar and pedals, he made it clear that they were the wrong ones, confusing the audience.
The stage lighting was at times abrasive, forcing audience members to look down or to close their eyes. With a band like My Bloody Valentine, however, not looking may be an asset. There are few groups that can provoke feelings of synesthesia quite like MBV. Without the benefit of sight, Shields’ guitar-based tone poems evoked both the color schemes of impressionism and app-based generative music. The presence of the band playing in the same room was enough of an experience, as waves of sound washed over the audience and Butcher cooed wordlessly through songs like “To Here Knows When.”
The band is infamous for ending concerts with extended versions of songs, often exceeding the fifteen-minute mark. It was telling, then, that the closing song, “You Made Me Realise,” lasted just under seven minutes.
Befitting the shoegaze moniker, the band members never interacted on stage, each one lost in their task, reinforcing the discomfort. Aside from thanking the audience and wishing them, us, goodnight, Shields’ only stage banter was to apologize for the sound.
I Only Said
When You Sleep
You Never Should
Cigarette in Your Bed
Come in Alone
Nothing Much to Lose
Who Sees You
To Here Knows When
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realise