A daze of youth dream was fulfilled the other evening, when the shoegazing originators My Bloody Valentine returned to San Francisco, playing the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Having done the unthinkable and finally followed up the inimitable Loveless with m b v earlier this year, their return to the touring circuit and obsessive amplified melodics was iminent.
At long last I was about to see my childhood heroes Kevin Shield, Bilinda Butcher, Colm Ó Cíosóig, and Debbie Googe. Finally I too was about to be pulverized by the group that shaped my formidable understandings of how sweet pure noise could be. With high-decibel warning e-mails sent out to ticket holders and complimentary ear plugs handed out at every entrance; the agony and the ecstasy was about to begin. Allow me to take you by the hand, song for song.
1. “I Only Said”
That familiar seesawing that I thought I might never hear live from Loveless arrived as the initiating and inviting opening number. While the gymnasium style acoustics of Bill Graham did little more to enhance the Valentines sound beyond excessive amplification, the venue provided a vast area for all sound to bounce and echo far beyond the intentions of Shields and company.
2. “When You Sleep”
The song with the most memorable loop could have been heard all the way to the North Point shores had this been in an outdoor amphitheater. While Bilinda stood beautiful like a guitar wielding statue, the famous duet between her and Kevin presented that intrinsic chemistry you love them for, while the lyrics of “once in a while, when you make me smile” stayed with you.
3. “New You”
Off the new album m b v, and while not the strongest in the set, it fit well and was welcomed by an audience that just stood in awe of their quartet of heroes.
4. “You Never Should”
“Do you want it loud?” Kevin asked the crowd, in between chants and shouts of “we love you”, and requests for “Sunny Sundae Smile”. In response, we got a live taste of 1988 with “You Never Should” off the album, Isn't Anything. The sheer power of the rocker with the irregular chord change ups blasted out the wide eyed fans giving a head charge to anyone with or without ear plugs.
5. “Honey Power”
Could have been renamed “Bilinda Butcher Power”, as she commanded the song through those half awake sung coos and whispers that dripped like pure agave nectar amber.
6. “Cigarette in Your Bed”
With a background visual component of sparks and digital pyrotechnics, I was happy and surprised to hear an early EP favorite busted out from retirement to enchant with Butcher's litany of “do do do do do” that only invited the band's storm of sound.
7. “Only Tomorrow”
More new sounds from m b v, new visuals, gently strummed guitars, rolling thunder waves, and dilated eyes of a rolling audience.
8. “Come In Alone”
It's loud, this song traditionally traverses soft as snow but warm inside; but the blunt onslaught force of noise brings the sound of bent electric strings and horn synth loops to the surface. Ear plugs barely holding steady.
9. “Only Shallow”
Because you knew this Loveless-opener was coming. And even though the magic of the album version could not have been deciphered as well live at this venue, the noise level had dramatically been raised to new staggering heights.
More obscure EP action, as the Kevin Shields fan clubs in the crowd became even more wild with their chants of “we love you”. Never mind that most of the members of the crowd hadn’t been born when the You Made Me Realise EP first dropped back in 1988, appreciation wafted high into the auditorium’s high rising rafters.
11. “Nothing Much To Lose”
Keeping the spirit of Isn't Anything alive, a lazy jangly take where Colm stole the song with his drum fills.
12. “Who Sees You”
Sound drowns all, new song, hearing becomes almost compromised, while the sound creates physiological reactions. But hey, Shields has been obsessed with audio chemistry for well over 30 some years now.
13. “To Here Knows When”
The wonder blizzard tune made itself known from the tell tale loop, Bilinda's soft song, and the waving electric guitar orchestra. The volume was still growing, as Shields seemed frustrated at times about the audio frequencies.
14. “Wonder 2”
Pretty tones, complimentary ear plugs are dissolving into my ear's wax.
The crowd pleaser, the dance loop, the blaring sound, everyone brought their best mope moves for this monumental moment. At this point the sound rattled everyone to their eyeballs, which by now looked like glassy queue balls.
16. “Feed Me With Your Kiss”
Taking it back to those early Creation eras, Colm bust into fighting rhythmic form, Deb brought all the bass along with Bilinda and Kevin's turbines smashed ear drums immediately. The sound was upped, Kevin had spent the while noodling with pedals, and levels to stir a reaction via alternate means than the ears alone. Ear plugs were almost next to worthless and practically melted.
17 “You Made Me Realise”
Then it happened. You knew it was coming. From everything I had read for MBV set lists prior to the evening's show and whatever other press I could ever get my hands on; I knew the night would end with the citadel like endurance of “You Made Me Realise” And that dreaded ‘holocaust chord’ toward the end. And then it happened; it went on, for a good few hot minutes. Kevin seemed to involve himself in seeing now loud and how weird he could make it, to the point where you could hear nothing, left only to feel the chemical reactions taking place from within the nervous system. The audience was fried. No encore was needed. I could barely hear for 3 days, and still not exactly 100%.