My Bloody Valentine
Concourse Exhibition Center, San Francisco
Shoegaze: to play a musical instrument while looking at one's shoes.
I could hear tiny symphonies at the ceiling or giant orchestras tucked in the corners of the room, miniature melodies layered underneath a massive wall of sound. I had forgotten myself, which is of course the first symptom of a good show, and was unwittingly staring at my shoes. For a moment, I noticed they were untied, then noticed the same about the muscles in my shoulders and the tiny hairs of my neighbor's mustache. I felt the giant drumbeat bubble in my ribs while an entire hangar of people began to float.
If you can judge a man by the company he keeps, on an evening in San Fransisco in late September one might have described me as romantic, spiritually exploratory, and just really goddamn loud. But hey, I'll give some credit to My Bloody Valentine for most of that. In the weeks preceding the show I had heard rumors of their live sound, notoriously large since the band's inception, and recently clocking in at a conservative 130 decibels (which makes it, according to the blogging community, like the loudest show ever).
Some 17 years after their last album, the expansive and blissful
“Does anyone remember 1987?” Sting or Eddie Van Halen might ask a croc-clad audience. The answer an easy, “Yes, of course.” And a one and a two and a three...
But if seeing My Bloody Valentine at all during one's life is to be considered fortuitous, seeing them now, their work having sunk into and swollen with the hearts of legions of fans and derivatives, is uniquely appropriate. After all, who can blame frontman Kevin Shields for his Salinger-like sparsity of output? My dim understanding of an album like Loveless that it is in fact a galaxy of sound, nebulae of wondrous harmonies and rifle-rhythms sleeping or expanding, and, tucked away somewhere inside, are very adorable pop songs. It will take me still years before I've explored the vast sonic depths of songs like “I Only Said” or “Sometimes,” so what's the rush?
One could say they played loud – my bones were physically shaken and my own voice sounded distant to me for 2 days following, but one would be hard pressed to believe that these simple chords, lifted into the ether by stacks of speakers and some 30 effects pedals, were an oppressive force. The songs burst into the atmosphere, the voices of Shields and guitarist/singer Belinda Butcher swimming into and out of each other, a romantic harmony afloat somewhere in the wave pool of noise. The closer, a 20 minute bombardment of “You Made Me Realise,” built to a crescendo that sent the change in my right front pocket a rattle. I would liken it to putting one's ear next to the engine of a 747 as it begins take off for Denver, but airplanes usually reach only about 90 decibels, so I'll have to come up with something better than that.
If I walked away from that show with anything, it was a feeling that somehow my ears had gotten their wisdom teeth taken out. Riding San Fransisco's BART system back to the airport the next morning, I noticed how odd the man sitting across from me was, staring me in the eye, mouthing the words to an inaudible conversation. 'He's probably drunk, and thinks he's saying words,' I thought, then realized I had said that out loud. He was actually speaking, as it turned, and I sure looked like a fool.
“Sorry,” I thought, no longer knowing the difference between spoken word and interior monologue. “I just saw My Bloody Valentine.”