Monday, September 29, 2008

Live Review: My Bloody Valentine @ The Aragon Ballroom (9/27/08, Chicago, IL)

(My Bloody Valentine - "I Only Said" - Live at the Aragon Ballroom - 9/27/08)

Download: My Bloody Valentine - "Cigarette In Your Bed"

At Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, a legendary group took the stage after being away from both live and recorded music for 17 years. The quartet, My Bloody Valentine, a British band who helped re-define psychedelic music by wholly inventing a subgenre that continues to shape and influence independent music today, demonstrated to an enraptured audience how it was possible for songs that were 20 years old to remain vital, contemporary, and awe-inspiring. Using a Berlin-Wall-of-Sound, My Bloody Valentine played songs from a masterpiece in sound that still resonates greatly today.

And the songs from Loveless didn’t sound half bad either.

The biggest surprise from My Bloody Valentine’s 13-song set wasn’t that the band gave what many regarded as an incredible, ear-shattering live performance. Rather, it was the fact that the material from 1988’s Isn’t Anything was what ultimately held up best in the context of that live performance. After opening with two Loveless tracks—the mid-tempo “I Only Said” and “When You Sleep”--, the band absolutely tore into “(When You Sleep) You’re Still In A Dream”, a deep cut from the aforementioned Anything. It was on these upbeat tracks that the band was at its most tight rhythmically. Bassist Debbie Googe and Drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig were in absolute lockstep, creating a thrilling foundation on which guitarists Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher could create their vast tapestry of sound.

The minor problem, then, was when the band tried to create some semblance of dynamics on Loveless tracks like “Come In Alone”. On that track, the night’s only real disappointment, the sheer density of the wall-of-sound dropped out when Kevin Shields solely played the whirring main melody on his guitar. That resulted in a lot of empty sonic space, which is a killer in momentum for songs that are so clearly based on epic soundscapes. This is probably why the Isn’t Anything tracks were the best, because they were closer to traditional (but still forward-thinking) rock sounds, rather than the fever-dream sound collages of Loveless.

That said, one highlight came in the form of You Made Me Realize EP track “Cigarette In Your Bed”, during which the band regained an impressive command of dynamics that had eluded them during “Alone”. To see a band that was playing as loudly as MBV was don an acoustic guitar to successfully play what was, in the context of the set, a straightforward ballad was impressive.

In a set loaded with highlights, it was on Loveless’ more upbeat songs, such as “Only Shallow” and “Soon”, as well as on Anything tracks like “Feed Me With Your Kiss”, that the grandiose guitar shined brightest, and were the main causes of the band’s pulse-pounding live show. Part of the reason for the live show’s success was due to the increased presence of the drums. In mixing Loveless, Shields and his engineers buried both the drums and vocals to create an air of ethereality. Live, the drums were much higher in the mix, which allowed some songs—namely, the material from Anything—to get a greater “oomph”.

Lastly, but certainly not least, was the infamous “You Made Me Realize”, with it’s the 15-20 minute white-noise section in between. Basically, hearing this section live was like experiencing the end of Eraserhead and 2001 simultaneously. I’m still not entirely sure that’s a compliment, but it did make for a memorable concert moment—particularly after watching dozens of people walk out after minute 10.

While My Bloody Valentine gave a performance that surely be remembered by everyone who experienced it, the show also presented an opportunity for fans to re-evaluate MBV’s debut album, Isn’t Anything, insofar as that was the material that shone brightest amongst a set heavy with highlights. Truly, it was a show not to have been missed.

MBV MySpace Page

(Jonathan Graef)

Cross-published on MFR.

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