It’s not very often that one gets to see legends on stage. Not only that, but legends as prickly and fussy as a guy named Kevin Shields. A guy that took 22 years to release a follow-up to a record that pretty much helped create a genre. Sure, the argument can be said that Ride released their shoegaze masterpiece Nowhere a whole year before Loveless dropped. True, but MBV put out their debut LP Isn’t Anything in 1988, two years before Nowhere. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it. So when the chance came to see My Bloody Valentine live, I knew I had to make the trek two and a half hours west to Chicago. The fact that the show was at the Aragon Ballroom was a minor hitch in the plan as I’m not a fan of that venue. But hey, you can’t have everything.
Sunday was a perfect day for a drive. My wife and I hit the road early so we could have plenty of time for perusing and chowing on the local favorite, deep dish pizza. It was a brisk but sunny day in the Windy City. After a stop downtown to hit the Jazz Record Mart, then Pizzeria Uno for some deep dish delight(the Spinoccoli was quite tasty), we made our way to Lawrence Avenue to meet up with My Bloody Valentine.
Now the Aragon is an interesting venue. It’s clean, it’s plenty big for a mid-size rock show, and it’s easy to get to with parking close to the venue. The issues I have with the Aragon are the fact that the acoustics are pretty dreadful. There’s tile everywhere in that place, and when you mix tile with loud music you get a very uncomfortable noise. Now if you have the right sound guys they can fix that somewhat, but not completely. We saw The Flaming Lips two years ago at the same venue and the sound was a little muddled. This time it was the same. But hey, when you have earplugs in that helps(we had earplugs in.)
So the opening band was Variety Lights. I had never heard of them and after a quick Google search I found out that the singer is David Baker. Yeah, I had no idea who he was either. Turns out he was in Mercury Rev but left in 1994. Hell, I didn’t even know Mercury Rev was around in 1994. Anyways, since then the guy has lived in musical obscurity. About mid-way through the first song I was getting annoyed. The musical was daunting; sort of like an industrial band with the main instrument being a calliope. Baker barked and stammered more than he sang, all the while flailing his arms like a lunatic. By the third song I was won over. I could hear where they were going in these songs. It was a mix of groove, noise, and pure psychedelics. I ran down to the merch table and snagged their vinyl(on pretty peach-colored translucent vinyl.) They finished as quickly as they started. Now it was time for the main event.
I talked my wife into heading down to the floor for MBV. After a stop for a cranberry juice and vodka(for my wife..I had water)we made our way to nearly the front of the stage, just right of where Mr. Shields would stand for the duration. Soon enough Colm O Ciosoig, Debbie Googe, Bilinda Butcher, and Kevin Shieds made their way to the stage. They opened with “Sometimes” off of Loveless and it was gorgeous. Soon enough though, Shields seemed to be having problems with his guitar rig. A tech had to come out and mess with the board for a couple minutes before the band could go into the next song. Shields seems to take it in stride as the rest of band awkwardly waited. Once they got to “When You Sleep” it was apparent that Kevin Shields wasn’t amused as he mouthed “IT’S SHIT” to the tech hiding behind the massive monitors. It may have been shit to Shields, but to me it was magical. “When You Sleep” was transformed from the hazy, pop track it was on album to this massive, musclebound rock song. Colm abused those drums like a little John Bonham as the guitars pummeled our senses, even more so than the seizure-inducing lights.
We were off and running.
What was most apparent seeing My Bloody Valentine live was how massive this band truly is live. They’re a completely different animal on record. Live, they’re loud(very, very loud), heavy, and powerful. Shoegaze is a great generalized genre to put them in, but there’s so much more to this band. Live the songs become living entities, heavier in force. Yet, you can also hear at the heart of these songs great pop melodies. Songs like “New You”, “Honey Power”, and “Come In Alone” reveal that they’re merely pop songs disguised as noise bombs.
Another thing about MBV live is that they’re not much for stage banter. There’s no joking or much interplay with the audience at all, which I can take it or leave it. I’m there to hear music, not funny quips and anecdotal stories. So Shields and company concentrate on the music aspect and leave the banter up to the crowd. That’s okay, as it left more time for songs, which were plentiful. “To Here Knows When”, “When You Sleep”, “Only Shallow”, and “New You” were highlights. Closer “You Made Me Realise” was what the crowd came to see, though. All night idiots in the crowd kept yelling “LOUDER!! WE WANT IT LOUDER!!” Well I can only imagine MBV took great joy in releasing this industrial-grade noise apocalypse on the unsuspecting Chicago crowd that night. A few minutes into the song the band morphed the track into a shrieking cacophony of feedback. Folks began looking peakid around me; sickly and pale. It was as if the earth itself was beginning to crumble and float away into the blackness of the universe. The hoots and hollers were replaced by what seemed to be the end of the world. By this time my wife and I had retreated and decided we needed to hit the road as we had a 2 and a half hour drive still. As we crossed the street from the Aragon Ballroom the theater imploded into a white light, disappearing from this world. Swallowed up by a massive wormhole known only as MBV.
It’s great to get away, but it’s even better getting back. I’m a homebody anymore. I’d rather be home spinning music or making music in my studio. But I’m glad I got to witness My Bloody Valentine’s epic show at the Aragon Ballroom. It was immense, enlightening, beautiful, and above all really, really f*****g LOUD!