In some ways, My Bloody Valentine may have been doing those of us old enough to have witnessed the band in their heyday a favor by waiting a couple decades to return to the stage. Just remembering the last time I saw the band—playing a cacophonic set opening for Green Mind-era Dinosaur Jr. that blew out some of the club’s speakers—is enough to make my ears ring. Back then, they were simply a very good band touring on a very good record (Loveless), and not the furtive figures they subsequently became. Of course, waiting 22 years between albums will make your follow-up be more than just the next record, turning it instead into some mythic holy grail fans the world over questioned if they would ever hear.
After first reappearing for a brief tour in 2008, My Bloody Valentine finally unveiled that album, MBV, this year. It’s been greeted with a mixed response since its release, which is to be expected. It’s hard to imagine how the band’s principal songwriter, Kevin Shields, could have bested himself. Most agree, though, that it is a continuation of the sonic trail cleared by Loveless—whether into new territory or a retread of the same ground is debatable. Personally, I’ve been on the fence about the album. As such, I was hoping to glean some clarity from seeing the band live Monday—not to mention survive with my hearing intact.
With its vaulted ceilings, the Hammerstein Ballroom seemed well suited to containing whatever maelstrom the band unleashed. Openers Dumb Numbers, who appropriately enough include Dinosaur Jr. drummer Murph, were already blowing out the cobwebs with a mix of grunge and stoner sludge when I entered. The three songs I heard were impressive enough and seemed destined to set the tone for the evening.
After a break and some DJing and poetry from BP Fallon, the headliners emerged in front of their towers of amps looking older but not so drastically different than 20 years ago. Similarly, their demeanor hadn’t changed much as well, with little direct interaction with the crowd and actually plenty of the shoegazing for which they and their contemporaries were labeled. They began softly enough with Shields and singing/guitar partner Bilinda Butcher and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig all on acoustics for Loveless’ Sometimes. From there, though, their emanations soon escalated into a heightened realm of volume and sound. Some of the subtleties of songs like When You Sleep were lost in the bluster, but it was not hard to become completely immersed in the music. This was at times helped by the trippy visuals, though they sometimes missed the mark too, instead coming off like some Windows 98 screensaver.
Sprinkling a handful of cuts from MBV throughout the set, My Bloody Valentine proved the continuity of their work, even if Wonder 2 came off as extraneous as it does on the record. It was the back catalog on which they made their name that provided the night’s highlights, in particular Isn’t Anything‘s Nothing Much to Lose and Only Shallow from Loveless. They went as far back as 1988’s You Made Me Realise, playing almost the entirety of that EP. They finished with the title track, which midway through erupted into a blitzkrieg of machine gun riffs and feedback played at an incredible volume that necessitated earplugs if one didn’t already have them in. The song returned to a humane level before finally ending, but it was hard not to feel a little shellshocked after the band exited the stage and lights were turned on. Once that dazed feeling dissipated though, it was replaced with a realization of the immensity of having one’s senses shaken so violently. Maybe My Bloody Valentine aren’t the immortals some would have them be, but they still wield some godly power.
Words by Stephen Slaybaugh.