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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Assaulted by Sound: My Bloody Valentine at the Aragon, Chicago 9/27/08

For years I wondered how the layers of My Bloody Valentine's classic albums Loveless and Isn't Anything would be reproduced live. Well, from what I saw last night, they weren't or at least they didn't appear to be. Yeah, I think I heard them, but just watching what was going on there's no way the simple barre cords Shields was playing and Belinda's almost nonexistent strumming was producing all the melody lines. Being a drummer, I also felt there was a large portion where the drum loops were pulling a little more than their fair share. I have a hunch the glowing Apple logo atop the soundboard stage right was the likely source of a fair amount of the extra sonic chaos.

And speaking of sonic chaos, we were treated to a rather lengthy "holocaust" in You Make Me Realize (21 minutes, according to a friend.) After hearing so much about this infamous climax of the My Bloody Valentine live expirence, I was expecting more. I feel confident in saying I understand what they were trying to accomplish, but the end result was more like having your head inside a jet engine than anything remotely artful.

Which leads me to the volume. Complaining about the volume at a My Bloody Valentine show is missing the point. However, I've been to some loud shows in my time and I've been to several loud shows with fantastically clear sound. I was hoping this would be another, but it wasn't so. About halfway in, it became nearly impossible to determine what they were playing as one sonic glob sounded much like the next. I'm not sure if the sound equipment or the room was to blame, but considering I've heard nearly audiophile sound in Ball State's basketball arena, I know it can be done in most any room, though I do see a history of people complaining abut the sound at the Aragon.

(A quick word about earplugs: without the earplugs, this show was just a rush of white noise and made absolutely no sense. The earplugs were like looking at a Magic Eye poster at that point where you finally get it in focus. It doesn't look exactly right, but you can at least see the shapes in the random patterns. It was one of the more interesting sonic phenomena I've experienced at a concert.)

Unfortunately, this volume, coupled with the sludgy sound, steamrolled over all the things that make My Bloody Valentine such a brilliant band. All the sub-melodies, all those harmonics created from the points where all these layers intersect, all the beauty of the songs underneath it all were swept away in a tidal wave of pure sound. All that remained was a horrifying crush of noise, with drums that crashed down on your throat and an occasional recognizable guitar part rising from the peaks. I can't imagine what someone who hadn't already memorized every nuance of this music would have gotten from this show aside from the blunt physical impact of the sound.

Because of the extreme volume and the amount of stuff obviously happening behind the curtain, it's really difficult to gauge the performance in any meaningful fashion. They showed up, exhibited the exact amount of stage presence they are known for, played a full set and left. Belinda delivered a heartfelt appreciation to the audience and Kevin mumbled a "yeah, thanks." So it went.

The short version would be this: it was exactly the disappointment I expected. And, in some weird way, there is satisfaction in that. I am glad I finally saw them but, even as much as I love this band, I have little desire to see them again.


brianwyrick said...

Man, that is what I read somewhere else too. I am an appreciate fan of a lot of "influence by" bands but know better than to attempt to see them live.

nehoccramcire said...

I saw MBV last Tuesday at Roseland in NYC; I agree with some of your impressions (I thought the volume at some points was pure sado/masochism with no aesthetic value; the 20 minute sound sculpture at the end was, for me, boring), but overall I thought the show was really beautiful. The songs are so good, they've weathered the past 17-odd years very well, and I thought the band performed them perfectly.

Rob G. said...

The songs are good and I guess that's why the show was kinda disappointing. The beauty was washed out in the sound.

Agree with you about things not being aged. If anything, I think MBV's stuff has worn better with age. Now let's hope there's a new album ready to drop soon. ;)