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My Bloody Valentine at Camden Roundhouse

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1 Review

June 2008

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      01.07.2008 22:25
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      17 years spent waiting for this moment weren't wasted!

      INTRODUCTION

      I have been a fan of My Bloody Valentine since about 1991, and having never managed to see them live, I never expected to see them as they split up not long after this. However, after my review of Loveless last year, I was alerted to the rumours of a reform by one of my fellow reviewers and fans on another site.

      A few months later these rumours were confirmed, along with news of some gigs. I found this out literally on the day that the tickets went on sale, and when I initially checked the tickets were sold out, but suddenly some more dates were announced and I managed to get 2 tickets for the Saturday gig at the Camden Roundhouse.

      I virtually never go to gigs these days so it was promising to be an interesting evening.

      MY BLOODY VALENTINE

      My Bloody Valentine hailed from Ireland and took their name from a slasher horror movie. They started off in the mid 80s as a jangly, Indie combo, resembling The Cocteau Twins in some respects, before mutating into feedback obsessed avant-garde pioneers. Influences can be traced back to The Birthday Party and The Jesus and Mary chain. "Loveless" was their second album, their debut album "Isn't Anything" was an Indie hit and critically acclaimed, gaining them a cult following, so big things were expected from this album. They didn't disappoint and it's recognised as a modern classic, but just didn't sell enough to recoup the losses incurred. I guess there's only so many people prepared to listen to something that, to the uninitiated, sounds like a motorway multiple pile up. But a lot of time and effort was spent to make this sound exactly as was intended. I'm sure a lot of subtlety and technical skill is involved to make all the elements come together without sounding like a really nasty motorway pileup. They have always been deliberately vague regarding lyrics, never publishing them as far as I know, but that hasn't stopped many fansites having a good guess. Lyrics were apparently secondary to the sonic structures of the songs.

      This album all but bankrupted Creation Records, costing £600,000 in the making and being a huge critical hit but equally huge commercial failure. Creation's folly in letting them spend so much resulted in the ultimate penalty of going bust and effectively selling out to Sony. The band's leader Kevin Shields had always been an obsessive perfectionist, and such habits meant that everything took time, and money. After Creation's implosion, they signed to Island and ... nothing. Ever. Aside from a cover for a charity album in 1995. They reportedly recorded 2 albums but Shields scrapped them both as they didn't meet the standard; eventually people left the band, leaving Shields & Butcher and that was apparently that. In 2007 though, rumours of a comeback were heard and these were finally confirmed around about November time.

      BAND LINEUP

      * Kevin Shields - guitar, vocals
      * Bilinda Butcher - guitar, vocals
      * Debbie Googe - bass guitar
      * Colm O'Ciosoig - drums


      THE VENUE

      The Camden Roundhouse is located very close to Chalk Farm station on the Northern Line. It seems to be some sort of venue that is, well, round! I think there are several parts to it; we went upstairs for the gig and downstairs there seemed to be another gig going on.

      A pleasant bar sits just right to the entrance with a fair bit of seating, which served food too. As I watched a couple a bit older than me tuck into some sort of fancy salads, I mused that this would be one of the last things I would expect at a My Bloody Valentine gig circa 1990; perhaps some dodgy burger and chips available if you were lucky.

      What I would assume was the main hall where the gig was seemed a fairly large auditorium, with some seating on the balconies and a fair bit of standing room (which is where my tickets were valid for). There was a bar at the back which always had a long queue and I had to put up with the usual people pushing past you with several plastic glasses of beer. I must say people's manners whilst shoving past you haven't improved at all over the years. I found the acoustics to be fairly decent; no unpleasant reverberations off the walls or anything. To be fair, with a band such as this it'd be hard to tell either way seeing as they thrive on a wall of wailing feedback.

      One thing I thought was a sign of the times (and not necessarily an unwelcome one, either) was the fact that the venue supplied earplugs on the way to the auditorium. For someone who feels his hearing may have been impaired by years or ear bleedingly loud gigs & nightclubs, it's good to see the health and safely brigade have at least got something right. There was also a curfew for the venue of 11pm, which was quite handy for those of us living in the suburbs.

      I didn't reek of cigarette smoke after the gig, which is a new one on me.

      THE AUDIENCE

      It would be fair to say that I was looking forward to seeing the audience almost as much as the gig itself. A not unsubstantial reason for this was that I was expecting not to be the oldest swinger in town, or lone anachronism, which I probably would have been for something like Arctic Monkeys.

      I predicted to my mate who came along that 50% of the audience would be ageing shoegazers such as myself, and 50% hip kids, very possibly influenced by their cool parents. I got that one wrong and the audience was predominately over 30, with an extremely light smattering of people I wouldn't be happy serving in a pub. There were a fair few balding serious looking types who I could easily have imagined being my contemporaries at university in the early 90s. I saw maybe 2 pairs of DMs all nights, not that much black and definitely no stripey tights, so at least some aspects of gigs have changed since then. In fact I would surmise that much of the audience were sharing my feelings on sartorial elegance for the gig, i.e. they didn't have any and didn't really give it much of a thought, one of the advantages of being older and allegedly wiser I suppose. I did see some characters though, and skinny jeans, ponytails and beards and funny quiffs did make some special guest appearances. Oh I almost forgot, there was a proliferation of man bags; the sign of a true metrosexual? Well this was Camden, I suppose.

      As a side note, apart from me and my mate, I spotted 6 Asians, which is 6 less than I expected but at least I got the ball park figure right! It's a little game I play to amuse myself at gathering that you wouldn't expect to see Asians in. Sorry, it's a legacy of my only-Asian-on-the-street upbringing; well along with the taste in music.

      Another fairly new experience for me was loads of people fishing out their phones or digital cameras to take pictures. I had a go myself, and I didn't get that much really apart from a red blur and lots of people's heads.

      THE GIG

      Doors opened at 7pm and I had an inkling the gig wouldn't be as late as you'd expect and so turned up at about 7.30.

      Sonic Boom were supporting, who are apparently some American band. I thought it was the bloke from Spaceman 3, in either case I didn't see them. They came on at 8pm but I was a bit lazy and missed them.

      I struggled to see the band on stage seeing as I'm a bit short but they had quite an impressive lightshow going on behind them which was a mix of psychedelic-like moving light images and projections of films. I could just about make out who I think was Kevin Shields with a lot of curly hair to the right, and oo-ooer in chief Bilinda Butcher. I could see Colm O'Ciosoig's drums but didn't see bassist Debbie Googe at all. One particularly noteworthy backdrop was the moving image of a guitar fretboard being played that seemed to be the same purple image that forms the cover art for "Loveless".

      Their sounds was as expected from their recorded work, i.e. ethereal beauty in discordant noise; lots of feedback, wailing guitars and breathy, barely audible lyrics. Indie music from the early 90s, basically.

      After coming on half an hour late, they kicked into "Only Shallow" which for some reason I never doubted would be the opening track. It also opens their 2nd album, "Loveless". It was more or less what I expected; huge swathes of feedback with a hard to distinguish at first tune, becoming clearer once your head sorts out which song it is. The vocal was somewhat at the back of the mix and barely audible, which I assume was a glitch as it was slightly clearer but not that audible as the gig went along, which is more what I expected. What followed was mix of stuff from "Loveless" and their debut album "Isn't Anything", along with some stuff from their early, rare EPs such as "Cigarette In Your Bed" and "Thorn" from the "You Made Me Realise" EP. I particularly remember "Thorn" as the backdrop to that was a film of some woman running around, zooming in and out, changing the angle of it, running from room to room; very avant garde!

      I can't remember everything that was played but some tracks I can remember are "When You Sleep", "I Only Said", "Come In Alone", "Blown A Wish", and "Sueisfine".

      The 2 standout tracks for me were clearly crowd pleasers. "Soon", the final, long, hypnotic, pulsating finisher from "Loveless" sent the crowd (relatively) mad, with some bloke in front of me mimicking the sort of shapeless, freaky dancing characteristic of my time. He was also sporting a t shirt from the Rollercoaster tour of 1992 so clearly nostalgia was the order of the day. The other crowd pleaser they used to finish off with; their 1987 Peel Festive 50 topper "You Made Me Realise" which climaxed with a 15 minute or more pure floor shaking roar of feedback that seemed to vary a little. They were still on stage and so were in full control. I left after about 15 minutes of this; I felt they may have been having a laugh at the audiences' expense, as even I couldn't take so much raw noise. At one point it actually reminded me of the hash chainsaw feedback of the opening track "One More" from Medicine's "Shot Forth Self Living", contemporaries of theirs at the time. It was about 10:45 when I left so I reckon they must have ended it there, if not I must have missed a cracking encore, but I had to get home to Guildford and it's a fair trek from Camden I can tell you!

      CONCLUSION

      I suppose I have waited 17 years for this moment and I wasn't disappointed. The band seemed pretty tight, getting their swirl of feedback to mix in brilliantly with their unique tunes, more or less recognisable as the tunes I know and love from their albums and EPs. I can't imagine this would easy, seeing as they're reportedly such tinkerers and perfectionists in the studio, so full marks to them for this. I could sense the general excitement in the crowd and I'd be very surprised if everyone didn't go home happy with a reminder of their youth. My only quibble would be that the voices were slightly too far back in the mix even for them.

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