My Bloody Valentine @ Roseland Ballroom (9/23/2008)

My Bloody Valentine was bringing their unique brand of music to NYC once again and while we were not on “official duty” in terms of documentation or photography, our own Skeleton Pete Parrella found himself pressed up against the barricade at the Roseland Ballroom and decided to let us know what the show was like. If you scroll past the logo below you will be able to enjoy these deep views on the show which help educate you on what you missed if you didn’t attend.

Logo - MBV

Artist: My Bloody Valentine
Venue: Roseland Ballroom (New York, NY)
Opener: The Lilys
Date: 9/23/2008
Label: Creation Records

My Bloody Valentine’s aesthetic has always been taking beautiful chords and ethereal melodies and crushing them to bits under the weigh of a Gibraltar’s worth of sonic distortion, pitch-bending and volume; a little game to see what emerges after obliterating a butterfly with a Howitzer. The continued allure of the band’s meager recorded output of nearly 20 years ago is that the outcome of that obliteration is a thing of beauty in it’s own right. On September 23, 2008 the crowd attending the second sold out show at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom got to experience what that musical experimentation feels like live and in person in full uncompromising assault mode.

Like the Velvet Underground in the late ‘sixties, MBV’s influence in the ‘nineties and beyond has been more far-reaching than their actual overall success. Along with band’s like Ride, Lush, Jesus and Mary Chain they pioneered a style that is now oft copied but rarely equaled and it was a treat after so many years of absence from the scene to see the members on stage and presenting “their” sound with as much vigor as they must have in their heyday. That is not to say that this is a show band in any shape or form. Kevin Shields single verbal acknowledgement came as a simple “Thank You” just before the band launched into their final number of the night.

MBV opened with “I Only Said”, a favorite of mine from their best-known album “Loveless” (1991), and continued with key songs like “When You Awake (You’re Still)” from “Isn’t Anything”, the metal-esque plod of “Only Shallow”, and the sublime dream pop of “When You Sleep”. The pounding alternating rhythms of “Soon” and penultimate tune “Feed Me With Your Kiss” made them a revelation in comparison to the studio versions and highlights of the evening. Only missing-in-action on my personal list was “Susieisfine”. The rumored addition of “Sometimes”, which would include all four members on guitars, was not attempted at the New York shows and in fact may be the only omission of note based on its wide familiarity via Sofia Coppola’s “Lost In Translation” soundtrack.

A rumpled, still boyish, Kevin Shields stood before what appeared to be a subway length effects peddle board and along with guitarist/vocalist Bilinda Butcher strummed out sheets of sound, looping the hooky little melodic lines so familiar to the audience. Bilinda, decked in red party dress and black cardigan, sang competing with the whammy bar driven excesses of Kevin’s and her own guitar work. Her vocals wafted in and out of the mix, sometimes peeking through in bright shimmering lines, other times being subsumed by the din and morphed into a string section like drone. Though Shields and Butcher often fell into the trance-strumming and floor focused stage mode that gave this genre its sobriquet “Shoegazing”, the same could not be said of the rhythm section. Debbie Goodge, huge bass strapped to her diminutive frame, stayed anchored at the drum riser bashing out powerful rhythms as drummer Colm O’Ciosoig drove himself past exhaustion over and over again. In fact the very stillness of MBV’s front people made Colm and Goodge’s efforts even more engrossing.

The sound-scape was complimented by a series of large, mostly abstract, images projected behind the band and was offset by a constant barrage of powerful strobes pointed directly into the audience, as well as two huge floor lights placed inside the photo-pit that emitting searing pinks, greens and UFO style, retina frying, white light, which intensified throughout the evening. That this was a purposeful “hostage taking” of the audience, much of which squirmed to find a comfort zone – if possible – during the evening was evinced by Shields himself who took umbrage with, and kicked, one of the rotating stage lights when it shown too brightly in his own direction. Like the classic Outer Limits declaration, My Bloody Valentine was out to prove they were in control of our collective destiny for the next 90 minutes.

The pre-show flap, based mostly around the sheer volume of the show, acted like the best of old Hollywood publicity tricks (“ambulances will be in attendance for the faint of heart”) to instill some amount of anticipation, if not abject fear, in the folks waiting for the doors to open on 52nd street. That the band/venue (or more likely their lawyers) made free earplugs available did nothing to calm those jitters. As people on line began to chat, the previous night’s volume levels were affirmed and stories of PA speaker failures, even during the opening act, were related. Fortunately this second show didn’t suffer any of the technical failures of 9/22.

While 2/3 of the show was made up of tightly played and riveting songs, it is the 15-20 minute extrapolation of their 1988 EP track “You Made Me Realise” that is getting the most attention as the tour de force of the live show. This final number of the evening is a sonic journey and a visceral endurance test. Standing at the barricade between the photo-pit and the stage as MBV launched into the protracted “You Made Me Realise” was akin to being on the runway at LaGuardia or JFK airports dodging on-coming planes. Shields & Butcher quickly moved from the opening vocal section to steadily raking their guitar strings and setting up a heavy drone. Aircraft engine samples were mixed through the PA and the volume steadily rose. My position, planted right in front of one of the huge blinding floor lights, was worthy of a scene from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. As the song progressed it was clearly not the freeform, loose feedback, everyman-for-himself gangbang I had expected. In fact it seemed a rather methodically planned experience as you gradually became aware that your body was being enveloped in a thick smog of sound. Using his amplifier switching system Shields explored white noise to gut-rumbling frequencies via a bank of nearly a dozen Marshall stacks. The band literally vibrated the audience according to which wave range was being exploited at the moment. After a while you could close your eyes and be transported, like a physical manifestation of what John Lennon had in mind when he sang “relax and float downstream” over the droning cacophony of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Needless to say this showstopper was not followed by an encore, there was nowhere left to go.

I truly hope that, like The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine decide to make this more than a short reunion tour and continue to play live to a generation that discovered them late but embraced their groundbreaking work none-the-less.

Set List:
1. I Only Said
2. When You Sleep
3. You Never Should
4. When You Awake (You’re Still)
5. Cigarette In Your Bed
6. Come In Alone
7. Only Shallow
8. Thorn
9. Nothing Much To Lose
10. To Here Knows When
11. Slow
12. Soon
13. Feed Me With Your Kiss
14. You Made Me Realise