“You’re doing a great job, Kev!”
“You are gods!”
“I like your sparkly green guitar!”
Those were just a few of the heckles thrown at the members of My Bloody Valentine during the brief bouts of silence between each ear shattering song at The Fillmore in Philadelphia earlier this week.
Their famously deafening live shows stand in deep contrast with their mum stage presence; each shouted plaudit ignored with the exception of an occasional smirk from reserved frontman Kevin Shields or a gentle thumbs up from guitarist Belinda Butcher. The sprawling sea of twinkly-eyed fans stirred with excitement as the band swiftly geared up for the next song.
Shortly after announcing the arrival of two new EPs with NPR back in March, MBV embarked on their first tour since 2013. The news quickly spread that they were debuting a couple of the unreleased tracks at these shows, so naturally, shoegaze fiends of every age and creed collectively lost their minds. After all, any new material from the band that took 22 years to release a follow up to the untouchable “Loveless” is set to be cherished by their 30-year-strong fanbase and new music nerds alike.
On a gloomy Monday night, fans began lining up two hours prior to the 7pm opening of doors. I was among the first ten people in line, bearing witness to the IRL meet up of the My Bloody Valentine news/discussion/meme centered Facebook group (which I am admittedly a part of).
Given the limited duration and region-selective run of this tour, fans had understandably traveled great distances for the show. One person, like myself, had made the seven hour trip from North Carolina. One had gone considerably farther: flying in from Argentina.
Upon the opening of the doors and the scanning of the tickets, fans rushed in — with complimentary foam ear plugs squished inside fists or in pockets — to snag a spot at the railing. Seasoned MBV fans are well aware of the consequences of neglecting ear protection at one of their live shows, but the opportunity to be on the front lines and absorb their beautiful chest-rattling noise is too rare to pass up.
That said, they have (allegedly) brought down the volume after pushing the boundaries of loudness on 2008 tour, resulting in people exiting the venue “looking like they’d just witnessed a car accident.”
The group took the stage in a single file line, offering soft smiles and a couple waves to the crowd before promptly kicking into melodic “Loveless” favorites, “I Only Said” and “When You Sleep”. Shields and Butcher anchored each side of the stage in their signature unmoving and aloof poses, in contrast with drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig and bassist Debbie Googe’s comparably animated performances.
They solidified their roles as the band’s under-celebrated foundation with each rolling snare and rippling bass line.
The first half of the generous 20-song setlist saw the debut of two unreleased songs from the new EPs. One of these reflected a retreat into the heavier “Isn’t Anything” era, featuring pounding drums, a racing guitar lead, and a airy, airplane-engine layer of distortion. The second unreleased tune snuck in not long after, featuring a gently swaying melody and a soothing melancholic chord progression.
Due to the increasingly ear-splitting volume and dizzying, hypnotic visuals, it was often difficult to discern the melody that was being played. The vocals melted in and out of the mix, recreating the signature “wall of sound” warble of their recordings.
Each song saw a different guitar handed off to Shields, famous for his detailed attention to the differing tones gained from using a variety of models.
After oscillating between heavy deep cuts such as “Slow” from the “You Made Me Realise” EP and the vigorous drum and bass of “Wonder 2” from 2013’s “MBV” — which featured each of the four members on guitar — the moment in the night had arrived for the infamous MBV closer: “You Made Me Realise”.
Infamous for the section in which the band breaks into an single chord sludge of pure noise. This part of their live sets, warmly dubbed by some as the “holocaust section”, has been known to extend anywhere from 10-35 minutes. Audience members have been known to wince in pain, curl into a ball on the floor, or literally sh** themselves.
While none of the above appeared to have occurred (at least to my knowledge), this section still warranted many to pull out their earplugs that they removed earlier in the set. The noise section lasted around 10 minutes before the band shook everyone back to consciousness by returning to a final verse and chorus from “You Made Me Realise”.
Just as coolly as they arrived, My Bloody Valentine exited the stage, leaving the crowd frazzled and in awe of the spectacle we had just witnessed. The weakness in my body as we shuffled out of the venue was tantamount to the feeling of exiting a roller coaster that had just mercilessly shot you over steep, coiled hills at breakneck speeds.
But unlike a roller coaster, My Bloody Valentine is a band whose live show cannot be experienced repeatedly at will. It’s a breathtaking experience any music fan will cherish, eager to endure the ear-ringing again for another opportunity to witness their gorgeous cacophony.
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