The most ironic thing about My Bloody Valentine’s surprise third album release in February was that out of all the reactivated rock acts from the early '90s, MBV, one of the more slovenly acts from that era have actually managed to add a point to their reformation with new music. When they played a warm up show in London in January they gave a tantalising glimpse into what they’d been up to by opening the show with what we now know as the song ‘new you’, there was no other new material though so the expectation was that they’d continue with peddling 20 year old music.
Starting fifteen minutes late, and only an occasional embarrassed giggle from Bilinda Butcher for audience recognition, the crowd made up of grizzled middle aged shoegaze fans and bunches of kids with haircuts copied from Hurts are more than ready for a glorious ear bashing. This comes immediately with the passive aggressive sounds of ‘I Only Said’ and a wildly euphoric ‘When You Sleep’, whetting the appetite for musical violence laced with gloopy syrup.
The first of the new songs tackled is ‘new you’; the most dated track on ‘mbv’ comes to life live. The old sounding beats (a barely disguised copy of Bilinda Butcher’s work in the late '90s rap collective Collapsed Lung), are replaced with a livelier throbbing heart and bassist Debbie Goodge adds a rare backing vocal that makes the track soar as she intertwines with Butcher’s voice perfectly. Unfortunately, this is one of very few moments of vocal clarity as whenever Kevin Shields takes to the mic, it's almost as if he's pretending to sing, such is the poor sound quality. Most of the time this isn't a problem as the vocals are just an additional layer of sound, but it is cause for frustration for many people who actually believe the lyrical content is much beyond lots of "ooohs" and unintelligible gobbledygook.
Elsewhere, a visceral ‘Honey Power’ is brilliantly offensive to the ears and ‘Cigarette in Your Bed’ is a welcome change in pace and slows down the gig, but how much is actually live? Can Shields really make an acoustic guitar play acoustically AND electric at the same time? We’re also treated to the best track on ‘mbv’ the beautifully chugging ‘only tomorrow', the psychedelic swirling visuals of various blue shades are the perfect visualisations of Shields’ tremolo effect coming to the fore. The innocent pop of ‘Thorn’ and the end-of-the-world riffs of ‘Only Shallow’ are highlights, as is a furious ‘Nothing Much to Lose’ which has Debbie bashing the hell out of her bass, this sonic terror is then nursed better by ‘To Here Knows When’, it really is a rollercoaster of emotions.
‘You Made Me Realise’ with the extended holocaust section now seems to overshadow everything else and is as gimmicky as the pretence that you need ear-plugs to listen to them. When it begins, the crowd gear up to be blown away as if health and safety and appropriate sound levels are not applicable to MBV. As a reimagining of how Shields thinks the holocaust would sound like, yes, it’s an effective art statement. However, we know it’s coming, we know what it sounds like and we know it’s unpleasant which negates the need to do it. The self indulgence here is on another level and a low point after being thrilled by classics ‘Soon’ and ‘Feed Me with Your Kiss’ just prior. The bass rumbles to the point where the ears tingle and you feel sick to the stomach. The shrill white noise provides the direct opposite of the bass, isn’t it just easier to head for a Bieber album if you want to be offended by music?
The closing track is now ‘wonder 2’, the heavily phased drill 'n' bass closer from ‘mbv’, the jittery bluster of which provides a perfect full stop to a dramatic night, with even has drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig strapping on a guitar to add a third layer of frenetic live guitar strumming. Then that’s it, a coy wave and they’re gone. MBV’s reboot has found them revitalised and if Shields has the ability or the enthusiasm to continue allowing us to hear the noises he hears in his head, the crowd to throw themselves at it are there. It’s just a shame that on this showing you only get to hear three of the new tracks, but that’s still three more than many.
Words by Chris Todd