Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #2

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

#2: My Bloody Valentine
Exeter University Great Hall – 3rd December 1991
Support: Silverfish
Also in attendance: Paul & Kev

In 2013, David Bowie made the greatest comeback in music history – by secretly releasing a single on iTunes on his birthday after 10 silent years with no build up, no hype, no fuss. Just doing it and having people find out gave ‘Our Dave who art in Manhattan’ as much publicity as any artist could ever have wished for. An act of genius, frankly.

A couple months later, another surprise comeback occurred. A similar method – a secret album release on the internet – was employed by My Bloody Valentine for ‘MBV’, their first record in 22 years, twice as long as Bowie’s absence. There was similar swooning, fawning and awestruck delight among hipsters, journos and 40-something former shoegazers around the world at the event.

But while I was still in raptures over Lord David’s return, I couldn’t have been more indifferent about the second coming of Kevin Shields and his cacophonous miserablists. While Bowie sounded fresh, exciting and more importantly relevant, My Bloody Valentine simply sounded like they’d rehashed the same record they went out on in 1991. It was, to be blunt, bloody terrible.

But then to be fair, I’d never had a great relationship with MBV. For in 1991, I caught them on the ‘Loveless’ tour, promoting what would be their last album for more than two decades. They remain the only headline act I’ve ever walked out on, and they’ve never been surpassed as the worst band I’ve ever seen.

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t fussed about seeing them anyway. I only went because Silverfish were supporting, and I was offered a lift to Exeter if I snapped up a spare ticket someone had. So I ended up going with Paul and Kev, two guys I knew from school/college well enough to loosely refer to them as ‘mates’ even if we weren’t like ‘proper mates’. 

What was immediately obvious was that this was not a sellout. Exeter Uni had two main live music venues – the Lemon Grove and the Great Hall.  This show was at the latter and was the larger of the venues by some margin.  There were more people here than the Lemon Grove could accommodate, but it wasn’t full by any means. Most of those in attendance didn’t seem to bother with Silverfish – more fool them; that was who I was there to see. Silverfish came across surprisingly well considering the size of the venue. They really were best suited to smaller places (like the Cavern where I saw them the following year), but even in a two-thirds empty Great Hall they pulled it off.

Perhaps it was that they were loud enough, scuzzy enough, rough enough, or a combination of all three that allowed them to overcome the challenges of playing in a space like that. Maybe they were just a friggin’ brilliant band. Whatever, I loved Silverfish, though I think most people there that night hadn’t much of a clue what was going on. While I lurched like a lunatic to the strains of Dolly Parton, TFA (Total Fucking Asshole) and Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal, pretty much everyone else kept a wide berth. If they weren’t familiar with Silverfish before that night, it’s likely they were pretty freaked out as much by the maniacal snarling of crazy frontwoman Lesley Rankine as the disconcerting, juddering rhythms and dirty, distorted guitars that defined the band’s sound. That’s usually why people don’t get on with Silverfish, at least when I play them some.

Silverfish played one of the best support slots I’ve ever witnessed. So maybe My Bloody Valentine were disadvantaged further by that. That said, no band has ever had the effect on me that MBV did. I did want to see what the appeal was; I wanted to like them, or at the very least appreciate what they did. I had bought their recent ‘Tremolo’ EP which contained the track To Here Knows When which I thought was OK, but little more than that. I hoped the band would come to life in a live setting.

Sadly, all I heard was noise, a thick blanket of sound with no discernable melody or direction. There just didn’t seem to be a point. And it was while I waited for any indication that there just might be a point that it happened – I dozed off. Yes, I fell asleep at a My Bloody Valentine show. WTF? Don’t ask me how it happened or how long I was out for, but the band obviously failed to hold my attention and off I went. It had never happened before and it has never happened since. When I awoke, everything seemed rather hazy. The band was still making a right racket on stage, but there seemed to be a lot more space to move around in. It was as if half the audience had left. I decided some refreshment was in order so moseyed off downstairs for a pint. I clearly wasn’t the only one who’d had that idea. My initial hunch that there were fewer people watching the band when I woke up than before my slumber proved to be correct – the bar was doing a roaring trade. Why? Overhearing some of the other former audience members explained things somewhat. “Boring”, “shite”, “awful” were just a few words that were used to describe what was going on upstairs. I felt heartened that I was not alone, that plenty of others shared my less-than-flattering view of My Bloody Valentine and sought solace in beer.

You could argue that Silverfish didn’t have much of a crowd either. Except they were the support band, of course. My Bloody Valentine were the main draw, the band people paid money to see. They were hugely acclaimed and becoming increasingly influential. Kevin Shields was (and still is to some) revered as being some kind of other-worldly creature on whom the future of music depended. Or something. But no one (that I could hear) was slagging off Silverfish.

Paul and Kev loved it however and couldn’t understand why so many defected to the foyer and the bar. Each to their own. For me, Silverfish stole the show and 22 years on, I’d still rather slap ‘Fat Axl’ on at a ridiculously high volume than endure the tortuous tones of ‘MBV’.


1 comment:

  1. I think I see what you mean with MBV: the first tune I heard by them in another century was 'No Place To Go' (from the Geek! - EP from 1985). Then they got bigger and bigger and although I heard one or two songs from every release, nothing surpassed the rousing vulgarity that 'No Place' had. Strange ...