My Bloody Valentine @ Hammerstein Ballroom – November 11, 2013
A few days ago, in anticipation of my second time witnessing the spectacle that is a live My Bloody Valentine performance, I asked myself the question that any enthusiast of ear-shattering noise would ponder at some point. Who is the louder band: Swans or My Bloody Valentine? Both carry the reputation that seeing them live, and actually staying the entire performance, is something no sane doctor would ever recommend (even with earplugs). But they’re also very different bands, each with a different aesthetic and approach. Now that I’ve seen both bands twice, I can confirm that the winner of this battle make your ears bleed is Swans. But don’t let that fool you into thinking MBV have softened. It’s just that Swans’ music stings a bit more.
We entered the theater at Hammerstein Ballroom just as the opening band, Dumb Numbers, finished. I didn’t hear a note of their set aside from the two seconds between the time our tickets were scanned and the time I violently rushed down to the men’s room. Apparently Murph, drummer from Dinosaur Jr, is in the touring band, and Lou Barlow contributed to the band’s album. But that’s all I know about them at this point. And the audience, at least according to Twitter, did not seem too pleased. I wish I could shine some light on the subject.
My Bloody Valentine, who I last caught in Glasgow, at their second ever reunion show, took the stage at just about 9:10pm. Opening with what may be my favorite MBV song ever, and the song I credit with making me understand the band to begin with, “Sometimes,” was a pretty remarkable way to get things started. With each member, including drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, strumming away on guitars along to that very simple drum track, the band created this long droning noise that, aside from breaks between songs, persisted throughout the entire show.
Other songs from the classic album Loveless, in particular, “When You Sleep” and “Come in Alone” were played much faster and heavier (somehow) than the studio recordings, sounding more similar to the band’s rawer aesthetic on their first album Isn’t Anything, which was interesting to hear live. The only songs that really stuck note for note to their studio recordings were songs like “I Only Said,” “To Here Knows When” and “Soon,” which of course all had the assistance of a drum machine. Songs from Isn’t Anything like “You Never Should” and “Feed Me With Your Kiss” were played at the speed and fury of an ‘80s hardcore punk band. It was incredible.
It’s also worth noting that keyboard duties are no longer handled solely by guitarist/vocalist Bilinda Butcher, who I don’t think touched a keyboard the entire performance. Adding an extra member to the band definitely seemed to fill things out a bit from the last time I saw them, which I assume gives Butcher and MBV mastermind Kevin Shields more room to focus on their extremely unique vocal harmonies. The new songs from this year’s m b v were particularly exciting to hear live from the first time, considering how stellar that album is. Songs like “New You,” Only Tomorrow” and “Who Sees You” stand right up there with the best of MBV’s catalogue, and hearing them live further proved that point. If there was any reunited band to set the blueprint for what bands should be doing once they reunite, it’s My Bloody Valentine. There is a purpose to the band now; a purpose that is missing from a lot of reunited bands.
The band, of course, closed with “You Made Me Realise,” the song that notoriously collapses into a wall of noise that can only be described as the most insane thing you will ever hear. It was loud, oh yes, it was loud, but it lasted nowhere near as long as the time I saw them in ’08 (which I believe hit the 20 minute mark). They cut it down to about seven minutes last night, and people were noticeably getting upset, even people with earplugs. I can’t exactly blame them, but I walked out of the show and my hearing did not feel particularly affected. Either way, it’s a scary thing to witness, but witness you must.
My Bloody Valentine plays Hammerstein Ballroom tonight with openers DIIV, the last night on their tour. Check out the setlist below.
MBV – Hammerstein Ballroom – November 11, 2013