Live Review: My Bloody Valentine at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

October 1, 2008
Week Of Shows
, Episode Five

Somewhere north of a Verve reunion and south of a Police reunion, a My Bloody Valentine reunion has rated as one of rock music lovers’ best hoped-for events.

My Bloody Valentine:  You'll never hear in this town again.

My Bloody Valentine: You'll never hear in this town again.

All artists should be as blessed as MBV during their unofficial retirement. Since the release of their critically loved but commercially underperforming landmark album Loveless 17 years ago, appreciation for them has grown exponentially. New generations that never had a chance to experience them in their prime have repeatedly found comfort in their iconic layers of dense guitars and whispered vocals — inspiring many to emulate that sound in their absence.

Returning to Los Angeles for the first of two sold-out nights at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, MBV demonstrated that not only could they pick up exactly where they left off since their last live appearance in 1993, but they would improve upon their legacy in the process. Taking the stage, mad scientist Kevin Shields muttered a simple hello before he and his band mates rapidly ushered the audience into “I Only Said” and “When You Sleep,” much akin to throwing infants in the deep end of a pool for a first swim lesson.

Sounding completely timeless and original despite the numerous pretenders which have followed in their wake, MBV was honed and purposeful in their delivery, accompanied throughout by top-notch video projections and a dazzling light show (inclusive of blinding, seizure-inducing strobes). Not content to stimulate just the sight and hearing of the audience, they played at an ear-hemorrhaging volume, ensuring their music could literally be felt rattling through the body as well. (Reports from other stops on the tour have placed show volumes at around 130dB; by way of comparison, a pneumatic riveter at four feet yields 125dB and a jet engine at 100 feet yields 140dB.) In fact, for the show’s finale, MBV broke free from the structure of “You Made Me Realise” and descended into a 15-minute juggernaut of noise – a sonic tidal wave that caused most of the audience to wince and cover their ears for the duration (although for some, it was clearly a trance-inducing, enlightening experience — like the girl behind me who was smiling and shuddering with pleasure in the chaotic wash, eyes closed and ears unprotected). Then suddenly, as if nothing had happened, the band simultaneously re-entered the song and finished it, unassumingly slinking from the stage moments later.

If there were any complaints to be leveled, they would be against the building rather than the band. As the Santa Monica Civ is nothing more than a concrete and steel bunker dressed in lingerie, the sound quality in the auditorium left something to be desired. It’s not as if MBV is known for aural definition, but at times during the night, songs became inexplicably muddled, likely due to the reverberating quality of the bare hall. And the vocals, while not exactly MBV’s focal point, were all but inaudible. Periodically, as Shields and co-singer/co-guitarist Bilinda Butcher would step up to their mics, (clearly unintentional) feedback indicated their barely present voices were as loud as they were going to get without contributing an extra, unwanted layer of noise to the mix.

Regardless, their performance was a bombastic, electrifying affair, leaving fans far from loveless by the time it was over. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, but in the case of My Bloody Valentine, their return has proven that fondness to be justified.

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