Saturday, March 16, 2013

Poised noise

First things first I didn’t think it was loud enough. Not sure how or why I was looking for more impact; a mate reported continued ringing in his ears a few days later on. Maybe I got the booze combos and levels right to dull the cacophony a bit, maybe the foreboding of sonic terror had played a role. But My Bloody Valentine at the Hammersmith Apollo on the final night of their brief UK run was still bloody great – power, poise and, yes, some pain. And I think that as I write this my ears begin to restrain, a psychosomatic trigger to an all-enveloping sensory experience.

Never rolled off the tongue has it, My Bloody Valentine. It’s an indie band trying too hard at an indie name with the hints of dark corrupted beauty only serving to burnish what would become their career trademark of awkwardness. The awkward name and the clumsy acronym (what is it, a Belgian hedge fund?) do not even hint at the at-times maddening path stumbled through by Kevin Shields and co, bankrupting Creation in the search for the perfect album (Loveless), then taking up to two decades making sure everything was absolutely, microcosmically right for the next release. Still people didn’t drift away, the rumour mill combined with a moribund white boy indie scene (well many just wanted their shoegaze back) to keep interest going right up until the cheeky, anti-commercial release on a Saturday night (as social media said, when MBV types will be at home!) via Bandcamp earlier this year. We got what we wanted with the lower-case ‘mbv’, more beautiful noises like the old beautiful noise, with a few iterations in the latter tracks. Did it need all that tinkering? Who am I to argue with the creators of Slow, Soon, Only Shallow and Honeypower to name just a few?

(white light, white heat etc)

And now we had the gigs. Standing to one side of the Apollo stalls as the first few songs such as I Only Said and New You rang out, I marvelled at how well crafted it all sounded – yeah it’s indie noise but every element has different levels and stresses in every song; the hushed vocals the only part to stay constant. That sweet-sick name, the obfuscatory imagery and the indie-schmindie song titles only hint at the sonic power therein, and merely reinforce the fact that they themselves struggle with and perhaps even have a disdain for the business of labelling and branding this art-music. To be a MBV fan was/is to be able unplug from the business of music and the music of business and to value it as pure aesthetics – when you hear them, all circumstances dissolve, nothing else matters but this highly developed blend of harmony and noise. As at home on the stereo, as here. This was the kind of performance a relieved crowd – you couldn’t call us a tribe because MBV are far too notionally disassociated from quotidian reality to represent anything other than the experiencing of art - had wanted for so long.

We move into the middle area and my uncritical love for what I believe is the carefully crafted, EQd and rehearsed MBV sound doesn’t quite make the whole of the 20 song-plus set. Maybe it is a little formulaic – after all this is just manic riffing by Belinda and Kevin, crazy drumming with regular fills from Colm and Debbie doing the arsequake bass, with only occasional bells and whistles on top – and a bit tossed off at times. It still hits hard though, and we’re shaking and freaking to the noisy fast bits and blissing out to the mellower, trancey bits where possible, although I think this is at least partly inspired by the dreadful chinstroking all around. For every person going for it there’s 10 more po-faced pseuds, even this short distance from the stage.

By the time we’ve reached the dark hole section of You Made Me Realise it’s loud enough alright; properly punishing. You want to recoil but all you can do is stand there and be violated by it. Gut wrenches, muscles tense, brain aches. Maybe they deliberately build up to that showstopper volume-wise, when arguably it would be better to have that intensity throughout.

Twenty-one years ago I insisted on spending more time drinking outside before we went in on the Rollercoaster tour – we missed Dinosaur Jr first on and my mate wasn’t happy. 21 years later he’s testing my patience by leaving it as late as possible to turn up. That tour was a moment for the US-UK indie noise scene, MBV, Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr and, implausibly, a Blur between phases, but in a snub interview from around that time, Kevin Shields said he’d got closer to where he wanted the studio sound to be, but that live was still a ‘frustrating experience’.

Not now, definitely not. Wonder 2 follows Realise and with its techno-like looped iterations charts another course for Shields and co. Saying what MBV live stands for brings only more abstraction – intoxication, extremity, stress, alterity – but maybe those qualities become ever more relevant as a proxy for the global meltdown. We lurch unsteadily out the exit doors and farther up see Wetherspoon’s is still open and stumble in, happy to have been knocked sideways but a bit senseless from it all. I’d take it all again.

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