Were it not for the return of David Bowie, My Bloody Valentine would surely have provided the ‘serious’ music event of the year with the emergence of mbv, their 22-years in the making follow-up to the alternative classic second album Loveless.
Were it also not for the onstage reconvention of this famously reclusive and perfectionist Anglo-Irish band in 2008, their live show would perhaps be more of a talking point for its defining collection of mould-breaking and utterly unique attributes.
Yet what is the My Bloody Valentine live experience? Surely everyone who has witnessed the band has heard tell of the few foolhardy sonic adventurers willing to brave the music “as (the group’s guitarist and sonic designer) Kevin Shields intended it”: up the front of the hall, right between the speakers and unencumbered by such affectations as a simple pair of earplugs, as given away free at these shows.
These people show impressive commitment, although perhaps they appear to have missed the point. With ears plugged, the at times harrowing volume is deadened to the extent that it begins to resemble the band on record - a persistent and smothering wash of overlaid effects and amplifier noise through which the subtleties of Shields, fellow guitarist and singer Bilinda Butcher, bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig’s playing become apparent.
In a hall filled with people it’s like listening alone at home on a pair of high-quality headphones, with the added wonder of being able to literally feel the music vibrate through the spine.
Throughout, Shields’ commitment to providing an all-encompassing sonic and visual experience is absolute. Both he and Butcher’s vocals and the band’s actual physical presence are subsumed beneath their instruments and a huge liquid light projection which bleeds across the ceiling, and when Butcher’s indecipherable words pierce through they have the quality of a far-off hymn being sung. Opening with the discordant swoon of “I Only Said”, the seventeen-song set featured only three of the new tracks, including the restrained, shimmering surge of “New You” and the winsome classic MBVisms of “Only Tomorrow”.
The crowd respond with a mixture of rapt attention and devotional fervour, with a particularly big cheer going up for the gorgeous “Soon” and a customarily wild response to “You Made Me Realise”, complete with lengthy and punishing feedback episodes, while the transcendent helicopter rhythm of new finale “Wonder 2” has earned itself a place alongside their finest work.