The first time I heard My Bloody Valentine I was about 11-12 years old, fresh off the island. Gael took a job at the only good record shop in town, The Business, which was owned and run by Brett Lundsford (Phil Elvrum and Karl Blau frequently worked and performed there as well as other musicians). He made it his goal to showcase as much obscure music to our sleepy little town as possible and for that I will always be grateful. One day Gael brought home a battered looking store preview copy of Loveless and being attracted to the lush colours I listened to it; tentatively at first, and then louder and louder. When we opened The New Bohemian Coffee House we played it often and were constantly asked, "Who is this?" by musically hungry customers and friends (like Brett I think we did our own part on helping to musically educate the town). I searched out more of MBV's back catalogue and they became part of the soundtrack for my teen years. I was too young to get into most venues to see them live the first time around, which in retrospect might have been a good thing -- deafness not being high on my list of life priorities. ;)
I had given up any hope of hearing new material by them or seeing them live a long time ago, but when I heard they were playing two shows in London I couldn't believe my luck to be living here. Of course as soon as the tickets went on sale there was a mad rush, including many people flying over from the states and others buying tickets for every single night, so I wasn't able to secure tickets for the first two dates; I blinked and they were gone and I was heartbroken. Fortunately they extended their tour by several days and I scored tickets for their second to last London date. My tickets arrived in the mail 7 months ago and normally I don't advocate wishing time away, but it felt like June couldn't arrive fast enough.
When we arrived at the Banksy-adorned Roundhouse in Camden a woman at the entrance was handing out earplugs, "You'll need them!" she said in her most motherly tone. I had warnings about the loudness from friends who attended the previous nights, but it's difficult to grasp the exact ear-splitting nature of it until you experience it. Quite a few people, men trying to be macho mostly, declined the earplugs and they later looked like they regretted it as their held their heads in agony.
Graham Coxon from Blur opened and MBV took their time coming out, but when they did they looked as though they had been preserved in amber. Bilinda was as adorable as ever and that's one crush still going strong (for some reason I never had a crush on Kevin -- strange how that works. ;) Normally I try to get as close to the stage as possible, but anticipating the noise we stood near the centre against the mixing desk rail and I think it was a good choice, as much as I would have liked to see them closer. They didn't acknowledge the audience for most of the show, instead to seemingly be in their own private world, but within the first few notes of I Only Said I knew I was in the right place. My God, just being enveloped in that sound. I found the best way to listen was with the earplugs halfway in; too deep and all I could hear was a deep rumble and no melody, too far out and it was a painful aural assault. By the time the room was fully packed in I had difficulty seeing the stage at all, they need to hand out periscopes to anyone 5' 5" or below at gigs! I was happiest when I stopped trying to the see the stage and instead closed my eyes and danced; MBV are surprisingly danceable live, I was sweaty (er, glowing!) and exhausted by the end of the show.
The setlist was practically perfect and I enjoyed the dreamy videos and light shows, loved the videos for Blown a Wish, To Here Knows When, and Thorn in particular. Through the dense noise the songs would emerge, gripping in their familiarity, even with the vocals mixed so low that they were virtually another instrument. The intense finale was You Made Me Realise which mainly consisted of excruciatingly loud white noise and feedback which we timed at 24-minutes (the time varied on each night); I saw pieces of the ceiling come down, people covered their ears in a mixture of intense pleasure/pain, after the first 5 minutes people started to look around at each other in bewilderment and laughing, after 10 minutes it began to force people to either leave or go into a meditative state to cope, some raised their arms in either appreciation or for mercy. I pushed in my earplugs as deep as a babelfish and I'm certain it translated the secrets of the universe to me; by the end of the 24-minutes I felt transported and was trembling. It was as if they were saying, "Hi, we've discovered the sound of the apocalypse and we're going to ensure it's the last thing you ever hear." Having thoroughly molested our cochleas Kevin, Bilinda, Colm, and Debbie slowly walked off the stage without a word, leaving us shaken and unsure what we just experienced.
There aren't many bands I would risk deafness for, normally I'm critical of artists who rely on excessive volume and I think it can be a sign of arrogance or self-indulgence at the expense of enjoyment to the listener (as my Finnish metalhead friend said when told about the noise, "What's the point of that? I like to hear the melody."), but this really was an incredible experience and completely worth it. I've read in the past that Shields said he uses loud volume, "because we know that once you get above one hundred decibels, that causes a physical change in people. Endorphins get get released into the system because the body can sense imminent damage." I believe it now and I've actually come around to the idea that something like that can actually be good and enjoyable, I'm not sure anyone but My Bloody Valentine could have convinced me otherwise. I liked this review from Echoes and Dust regarding the noise:
"And, of course, MBV do loud. Just amazingly loud. It’s a sustained and brutal sonic assault. The effect in the crowd is to be completely enveloped by sound – it takes on a perceptible physical presence around you, you exist within it and as part of it. It’s claustrophobic and frightening and astonishing. It induces waves of nausea, it does things to the internal organs you know instinctively aren’t good and sometimes it just fucking hurts but, by God, you wouldn’t be anywhere else.
There’s much talk of earplugs before MBV take the stage (packs are given away free by the organisers) and, during the apocalyptic 30 minute white-noise demolition of ‘You Made Me Realise’, it’s clear why. As you wear them and MBV bludgeon you from afar, you come to realise that, outside of that 3cm-long piece of silicon wedged in your ear, there exists a seriously hostile environment, a place utterly inhospitable to the human ear. It’s the aural equivalent of running on the surface of Mars in a perilously flimsy spacesuit. Carrying scissors. It is utterly exhilarating.
You Made Me Realise feedback excerpt. Funniest video on the internet.
I originally didn't intend to write very much about this concert as I can't do it justice with words, but once I started writing I couldn't stop. I hear and understand their music differently now and I love it even more, which I didn't think was possible. Listening to MBV on the train ride home, with my eardrums still vibrating, I knew I would never experience something like that again. I spent most of the day after recovering from a throbbing headache, but I didn't regret it one bit.
Most of the videos from the gig are hilarious in their futile attempts to capture anything but sonic sludge, but the links point to a few who managed to do a decent job. Pitchfork gives the best review I've read so far.
I Only Said
When You Sleep
(When You Wake) You're Still in a Dream
You Never Should
Lose My Breath
Come In Alone
Nothing Much To Lose
To Here Knows When
Blown A Wish
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realise (Holocaust Version)
photo by unresttwothree
I love their song ("Sometimes") on the "Lost In Translation" soundtrack and finally listened to the rest of their work the other day. "Blown A Kiss" would be my 2nd fave.
I don't think I could sit/stand through another loud concert though. My hearing is so SHOT/WRECKED from the shows of my youth. Daft Punk was the most brutal I've been to/seen/heard and that was surprising since it was an outside venue, the BANG Festival in Miami.
Sometimes is one of my favourite tracks of theirs, I'm a bit surprised they didn't play it given the recent popularity though the film.. but perhaps that's precisely why they didn't play it. Blown A Kiss is fantastic.
I understand the noise issue, for me tolerating music this loud is maybe a once or twice in a lifetime thing. I'm glad I experienced it, but I'm not risking it on a frequent basis. :)
Despite the brutal volume I envy your seeing Daft Punk, one group I never got the chance to catch!
I wondered the same myself, some closeup photos of them reveal some heavy duty earpieces, but you'd think with so much prolonged exposure it's got to be having some effect. I did hear that they've admitted some hearing damage from performing in ther earlier days. I'm willing to bet it won't be long before Health & Safety start putting limits on how loud bands can be, surprised they haven't already considering the way things are going here (such as padding lampposts for when people run into them while walking and texting!)
I would be panicking too, glad you're not in line for a hearing aid! Mine wasn't that bad, but the next day it felt like I had cotton wool in my ears.
Bilinda is just <3, *tries not to think about her dancing around in tight pants in the Soon video*