My Bloody Valentine hit NYC last night
for the third of their US reunion shows and second date at midtown’s
Roseland Ballroom. The real question — at least in the mind of this
correspondent — was whether the hype, both new and old, of their being
the loudest band to ever plug into a wall of amps would quite literally ring
So here’s the skinny. MBV was ridiculous.
Even with earplugs in it was punishingly
loud. Yet this wasn’t just amps-to-11, fuck the mix, Marshall stack
machismo. These dudes and dolls are clearly schooled in the finer points of
ear destruction and referenced both the chest-caving brutality
of Merzbow and the interlocking harmonic tonalities of Rhys Chatham, shot through
with punk aggression and post-electronica bliss. It was full-frequency
ego obliteration — with a light show.
The sound had an incredible effect on
the body. Word has it that MBV’s gigs have been hitting the 130 db
level — roughly equivalent to the sound of a fully powered jet heard
from 80 feet away. It was entertaining to watch the
audience members react to the noise — some kneeled down, trying to use
those standing in front of them as barriers from the aural howl. I, too, was affected — by
massive, uncontrollable shivers passing through my body. I’ve heard rumors
of “emergency poop incidents” brought on by precision sonics; while my experience didn’t end in soiled trousers, I now understand the possibility of such an occurrence.
I pulled my ‘plugs on numerous
occasions to find that, while the definition was far more stunning, anyone
who went unprotected for more than a song or two was a moron.
Admittedly, this doesn’t paint the
prettiest picture for anyone sane enough not to submit themselves to the aural threshold. But key to understanding why the show wasn’t simply a masochistic
exercise comes in examining the beauty and power that comes from such
I kept thinking of Spacemen 3 and their theories on noise/drone as religious experience (keep an eye
out for a future post on this subject). The crowd was filled with people
standing arms aloft, palms stretched out to the sound. The 15-minute,
set-closing version of "You Made Me Realize" was composed
almost entirely of a massive full band drone that was nearly battle-like
in its intensity — Colm Ó Cíosóig’s drums rattling ribs while
Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher and Debbie Googe hammered on a single
chord until the sound became an almost physical entity, hair-ruffling
in its raw power.
Is unprecedented volume the key component
in the success of an otherwise unremarkable band? Thankfully, no. The
band’s experimentation with the outer limits of human hearing may
be prime fodder for the hype hounds but it’s also a fascinating exploration
into the possibilities of rock ‘n’ roll as full mind-body experience.