concert review: My Bloody Valentine, Gemma Hayes, Flowers of Hell @ Kool Haus (Toronto, Ontario), September 25, 2008
Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine @ Kool Haus (September 25, 2008)
If I'd had the fortuity back in 1992, I'd have gone to see My Bloody Valentine at The Opera House, the last time they'd pass through the fair city of Toronto. It was around the same time I'd discovered them when I'd borrowed a scratched up copy of their album "Loveless" at my local library and being totally floored by what I heard. They were a logical extension of my admiration of feedback and melody I'd developed a few years prior with The Jesus and Mary Chain. Although as the decade of the nineties turned over to the new millenium, I'd just about given up on My Bloody Valentine ever releasing a follow up to "Loveless" let alone tour ever again. However, 14 years later here we are with My Bloody Valentine (Kevin Shields[guitar, vox], Bilinda Butcher[guitar, vox], Debbie Googe [bass], Colm Ó Cíosóig [drums]) touring again.
Opening the show were the transatlantic-composed London-Toronto outfit Flowers of Hell composed by my count of nine members (ten when hometown hero Owen Pallett joined in on violin for several songs). With a kaleidoscope of screen projections in the background, the ebb and tide of strings, horns (sax, trumpet), keyboards, drums and guitar took the audience on sweeping orch-rock acid trip. While I liked them, instrumental acts are always a tough bunch and they were a bit too much of the same thing over the course of the set.
A surprise addition to the bill was Irish singer songwriter Gemma Hayes. She performed a sublimely melodic and satisfying set of singer-songwriter material, competently embellished with Gemma on acoustic guitar and accompaniement by a gentleman providing some sinewy electric guitar. While the music and melodies had a definite accessibility, there was enough grit to keep things from getting too saccharine, even at times the guitar sound augmented with distortion as perhaps a nod to what would come with My Bloody Valentine's set. She did provide arguably the funniest line of banter of the whole night when she came out at the beginning of her set and introduced herself as "Kevin Shields" - I mean, not many had expected her on the bill, some having anticipated MBV coming on right after Flowers of Hell, so I'm wondering how many people were wondering who she was. I'd already clued who she was because I'd pass by the merch table on the way in and saw her CD for sale. She was a pleasant bonus for the night, though at that point my excitement for MBV was running over.
Finally Kevin, Belinda, Debbie and Colm took the stage to rapturous applause and dove into "Loveless" track 'I Only Said". Throughout the set it their was a dichotomy in the physical emotiveness of the band with Kevin and Belinda taking a protypical, shoegazer, non-chalance while Debbie and Colm, especially on pre-"Loveless" songs, were quite more in a rock mode. Like Flowers of Hell before them, MBV had a colourful array of lighting effects, and also flashing lights. On one hand, lighting effects helped to emphasize the hazy blissfulness of the noise and melodies but on the other hand, the flashing lights in particular were an epileptic's nightmare.
My MBV listening always tended towards "Loveless" and naturally I gravitated towards those songs during the set especially the fantastic chainsaw guitar sounds of 'Only Shallow', the danceable-shoegaze[now, isn't that an oxymoron?] pop of 'Soon', and the shoegazey dream-pop of 'When You Sleep'. The "Isn't Anything" tracks emphasized a rock vigor and intensity (mostly in the Dinosaur Jr-like drumming on some tracks) that really rationalizes MBV as a precursor to the early 90's alt-rock/grunge scene. In a different world, MBV would have been just as popular as Nirvana.
The defining moment of the show for most was of course their last song of the set 'You Made Me Realise' which started out normal enough before collapsing into a gradual crescendoing sea of white noise, which lasted a whopping 24 minutes. This part of their live set's was apparently been called the 'holocaust' and with good reason - it was every bit as devastating as the name implies. As it got louder and longer, I had a feeling of both ectasy and fear - the ectasy of feeling the wash of sound waves moving through me, but I also felt a slight tangible fear of whether my ear drums could take it. Thankfully, the ear plugs handed out by security on the way in came in handy [although I'd already come prepared with my own in any case], although at times I still felt compelled to cover my ears with my hands like I witness many a person around me do. I can't imagine having lasted that without ear plugs and even a few around me who braved at least half of that without ear plugs, I observed a concern in their expressions and a realization of the possible permanent hearing loss they were subjecting themselves too. I witnessed a few people leave but even more finally reaching for ear plugs in their pockets or covering their ears with their hands. The noise finally fed back into the song and that was it. I couldn't have imagined the band coming back for another song and in certain respects I was glad it was over. As last remnants of the feedback subsided and the house lights came on, there was a jubilation in the faces over everyone around me, including myself. It felt like I'd gone to war, won, and was going home in one piece.
Ed. note[1 Oct 2008]: Sorry for the late review posting.
Photos: My Bloody Valentine, Gemma Hayes, Flowers of Hell @ Kool Haus (September 25, 2008)
Myspace: Flowers of Hell
Myspace: Gemma Hayes
Myspace: My Bloody Valentine