My Bloody Valentine: Special Report From Richmond

Shoegaze gods My Bloody Valentine brought their eardrum destroying reunion show to Richmond on Thursday. Enterprising Going Out Guide intern Amanda Pittman was down there and filed this report.

When I heard that My Bloody Valentine was coming to Richmond I decided to see what all the hype was about. "Loveless" was released in 1991; almost 20 years later the band's following is perhaps only more loyal. This show was one of only three U.S. appearances and, not surprisingly, was sold out. The National isn't a large venue, but the old opera house was perfect for a show of this nature. I knew that I was in for something big and something loud -- especially as I was handed ear plugs on my way in -- but I didn't know to what magnitude. There were rumors the volume would reach above 135 decibels. Signs were posted everywhere warning of strobe lights and other flashes.

(More after the jump.)

Once on stage MBV broke right into "I Only Said" and followed with the crowd favorite "When You Sleep." At first it was hard to tell if the vocals were meant to be so distorted, but by the end of "When You Sleep" things were more audible and members of the audience could be seen mouthing the words. Not singing -- not that they would have been heard, anyway -- but mouthing. Each one in their own shoegazing world. MBV mastermind Kevin Shields stood perfectly still on stage for the majority of the set, opening his mouth only to sing the muddled lyrics of his songs, hardly acknowledging the audience.

Each song was accompanied by extensive lighting and flashing visuals. These elements really allowed one to be swallowed by the sound. As I became hypnotized by the strobes and watched the kaleidoscopic background images, the music seemed to get louder and sound waves were literally vibrating off the hairs on my arms. This may sound unpleasant to those who have never witnessed this kind of show, but it was so raw and very rare to experience, and that's what made it so beautiful.

The overwhelming surge of sound is what defines shoegaze as a genre -- loud, abstract, disorienting. There was certainly no dancing in the National. Audience members were too busy feeling, with every sense. When someone shouted in between songs that the "bobbleheads" needed to start moving it wasn't surprising to see scowls dart across the venue in her direction. After some polite exchanges she kept her thoughts to herself and tried to experience what the rest of us were experiencing.

MBV closed its set, just more than an hour, with an extended version of "You Made Me Realise." It included an assaulting 15-minute noise section that left the entire crowd rediscovering breathing when it was all over. I don't know what the decibel range it reached at the end but everything in the room was vibrating -- my tonsils were moving inside my body and my nostrils were flaring at will.

But there was much more to the performance than just noise. To truly appreciate what MBV did, the listener must be willing completely lose themselves in the pure, unadulterated sound. Thursday night myself and about a thousand others did just that.

--Amanda Pittman

By David Malitz |  August 3, 2009; 2:17 AM ET
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"At first it was hard to tell if the vocals were meant to be so distorted"

I remember my first time listening to the first track of "Isn't Anything" and wondering if my CD was defective ;)

Great review, thanks.

Posted by: HoyaParanoia | August 3, 2009 1:52 PM

I saw this show, and I can't express how lucky I am to have seen band like this in a venue like that. The You Made Me Realise "holocaust" is really something to be experienced. Even though I knew it was coming, I was in no way prepared to hear it live. A rare experience I won't soon forget.

Posted by: joshlct | August 3, 2009 11:24 PM

Great review! Nice meeting you last night. The NYC show I caught last year was significantly louder. So much so that I had to struggle to keep my balance during the first few moments of "I Only Said." Both this most recent show and last year's Roseland gig were equally intense and transcendent, though.

Posted by: azaghal1981 | August 6, 2009 2:44 PM

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