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August 22, 2013 at 2:44 PM

My Bloody Valentine bloodies ears at Showbox SoDo | Concert review


My Bloody Valentine — Bilinda Butcher, Kevin Shields, Colm Ó Cíosóig and Debbie Googe — played Seattle Wednesday.

Nothing about My Bloody Valentine’s sound is compact, so when word came down last week that the Irish-English noise-pop innovators’ upcoming Seattle show had been moved from the airplane hangar-sized WaMu Theater to the much-smaller, much-maligned Showbox SoDo, those who’d pre-purchased tickets let out a collective groan.

That the foursome handily sold out WaMu in 2009, its last trip through town, only to be demoted to a smaller room for this tour — supporting 2013’s “m b v,” its first new LP since 1991’s legendary “Loveless” — suggests that when it comes to reunions, fans get more excited when they don’t know what to expect.

Yet while the surprise factor might’ve been lower Wednesday night, the volume certainly wasn’t. Earplugs were distributed at the venue’s entrance, free of charge, and for good reason. Neither the band, nor its followers, would have it any other way.

MBV is a cryptic group — bandleader Kevin Shields rarely gives interviews, and prefers not to be photographed. Essentially, it’s all about pure, unadulterated sound.

Often credited as inventors of shoegaze — the indie-rock subgenre that takes its name from its players’ tendencies to stare at their effects pedals, lost in concentration, scheming which one to kick in next — the band has provided the soundtrack to millions of trips and comedowns alike, favoring atmospherics and sonics to showmanship or lyricism.

Time has proven “Loveless” massively influential, and despite having taken nearly two decades off, MBV demonstrated Wednesday that no one does this style better.

Over the course of nearly two hours, the unassuming, mop-topped Shields, playing in front of a wall of amplifiers, reaffirmed his title as the shoegaze genre’s undisputed guitar god. He didn’t make the sellout crowd wait long for familiar material — “Loveless’s” longing “When You Sleep” was performed second, the tremolo-laden “Only Shallow” soon after — yet gradually raised the intensity level, building on each song to explosive, bone-rattling set closer “You Made Me Realise.”

During “Realise’s” mid-section, the band began to generate transcendental white noise akin to being inside a jet engine. When they eventually returned to Earth seven minutes later — at other shows they’ve been known to grind it out for up to 40 — the landing coda sounded comparatively quiet, warping the audience’s perception of what loud actually is.

Shields’ bandmates Bilinda Butcher (vocals and guitar), Debbie Googe (bass) and Colm Ó Cíosóig (drums) showed great chemistry and dynamic range throughout, transitioning with ease between sludgy, fast-paced older material (“Nothing Much to Lose”), propulsive dream-pop from “Loveless” (“Soon”) and cleaner, electro-tinged cuts off “m b v” (“New You”), cohesively encapsulating the various forms of shoegaze music at once.

Faced with the unenviable task of opening for a group as singular as MBV, San Francisco’s Lumerians wisely eschewed loud guitars for fluttering synths and squawking sax during their hard-driving half-hour set of percussive psychedelia.

Though the bands didn’t disappoint, the venue did, its counter-intuitive layout, bad sightlines and lack of seating exposing the city’s need for a more hospitable option to accommodate non-hardcore-punk-or-metal acts able to pack Neumos, the Neptune or the original Showbox, but not necessarily, say, the Paramount.

Comments | More in Rock/Pop | Topics: alternative, dream-pop, shoegaze


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