My Bloody Valentine
Aragon Ballroom; Chicago, IL

1991. I was five years old in 1991. I had barely begun developing long-term memories, let alone an understanding of music. Had someone then told me this would be the last time My Bloody Valentine would tour until I got out of college, I would have thrown my toy at them and ran off to find my parents, calling that person “weirdo” in the process.

Seventeen years have passed, and now I'm the weirdo.

Standing in the middle of the Aragon Ballroom, I saw a small contingent of people here and there who were old enough to not only remember My Bloody Valentine then, but to have also seen them perform live. But the vast majority of the crowd in the venue was around my age. And unlike the older crowd, the only expectations we had were based on: (1) listening to Loveless and Isn’t Anything, as well as any EP or compilation they could find or pirate, (2) live reviews and news reports, and (3) primitive YouTube footage of the London rehearsals and previous shows. In other words, we had very little to go by, other than that they were notoriously loud and sounded about the same as they did 17 years ago. Kevin Shields and crew met those two expectations. But there were a lot of other things they did as well.

Granted, we knew it was going to be a loud show because the bouncers were handing out earplugs, “courtesy of the band.” But the moment the band started playing, 10 minutes after the lights dimmed around 9:10, we realized that these earplugs were not just a courtesy, but a requirement. Only one person in the crowd near me went without earplugs. I pitied him, for there is no metaphor to describe the volume. It might be the loudest event that I have heard and will ever hear. By the time they finished “Nothing Much to Lose” about 40 minutes in, I could already hear the ringing in my ears. And they would play for another hour.

Another health hazard came into play at the very beginning. The moment the band opened with “I Only Said,” the stage became so inundated with bright, rapid-fire flashes from above, it would have taken only three seconds for the sensitive to commence convulsing. The situation became disorienting quick for everyone involved. And yet, you could feel that was the intent: “I Only Said” was always a very jarring piece, feeling at times like an acid trip. The volume, the intense lighting, even Shields’s slapdash approach to the wah-wah effect made that disorientation all the more poignant.

As the band continued, cutting through favorites such as “Only Shallow,” “Thorn,” and “Soon,” their stranglehold on the crowd was intense. Even when there were a few moments of silence between songs -- as Shields or Bilinda Butcher switched and tuned guitars -- the momentum was never lost. This band had confidence. In turn, the crowd was pleased, earplugs and all. There were very few request shouts and cat-calls. The only time the crowd got wary was the end of “To Here Knows When,” which dragged an extra few minutes.

The band’s presence and mechanics were subdued in comparison. Debbie Googe never moved from her spot close to the bass cabs and drums. Colm Ó Cíosóig’s drumming was clear and consistent, but never over-the-top. Shields and Butcher’s vocals were barely noticeable amongst the layers of guitars and bass, a band trademark. Even between songs, a setlist that has mostly been in place since their first official show in Glasgow, the only time the band even spoke to the crowd was to thank them before their final song. Yet the crowd never wavered. The band was calm, and there were no signs of tension or distress.

The final point that marked the night was the visuals. When the lights and generated fog were lessened, the backdrop constantly shifted in repeated projections and lamp movements. There was a synesthetic intent to these projections: they helped create a visual frame to their music. It also made the songs much more lively. This point was never more apparent than during the closer “You Made Me Realise,” which entered into a 25-minute jam that sounded like the space shuttle got stuck in ignition. Despite the drone, the crowd enjoyed it, sans one beer-throwing member who did not even reach the security fence. Even as the band walked off stage, there was a small hope amongst many for at least another song, the euphoria apparent.

Seventeen years have past since My Bloody Valentine's last tour, and with shoegazing all but dead, one wonders what could possibly motivate them to return after all this time? It helps very little that no new material, particularly of the self-hyped third album, was played tonight. And 17 years have brought in an entirely new and different audience, including myself. But no matter their motivation, My Bloody Valentine sounded like they hadn't ever disappeared, never giving any indication that they would be stopping anytime soon. And, a few days of tinnitus aside, that is something to be hopeful for.

[Photo: PictureResearcher]

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