Despite a few technical hiccups and the miserably awful sound at the Aragon Ballroom my bloody valentine turned in an absolutely blinding performance last night. How many bands get to kick off a magical evening with a song as beautiful and amazing as ‘Sometimes’ off of an album as unique as ‘Loveless’? I was at the band’s last appearance at the Aragon in 2008 and while that previous appearance had better sound (relatively speaking), last night featured a better mix and a more assured, solid performance. The band has been touring non-stop since before the release of their third album (and the crown jewel new release of the year as far as I’m concerned) ‘m b v’ and it definitely shows. During their previous stop I was delighted to hear ‘Come in Alone’ off of ‘Loveless’ as it had been a rarity live up until that tour, but it was bogged down and sluggish and rife with technical issues. Tonight when they played it the song flowed beautifully and bounced with an energy it lacks on record. ‘Sometimes’ was a song I’d been secretly hoping to hear, but wasn’t counting on so as not be disappointed. When they opened with it I took it as a sign that it was alright to expect the evening to be magical.
A few other key differences—the band have recruited a fifth member to flesh out their new songs live by filling in on an extra guitar, keyboards and some backing vocals. Also, the mix was much richer and more diverse. The emphasis was still on volume (I wore the earplugs and my ears are still ringing a bit) but Shields’ guitar was not the dominant ingredient in the mix like it was last time—for one I could hear Bilinda Butcher’s guitar playing without having to strain at all. Then there’s the obvious—the four new songs in the set, which sounded spectacular and were probably the strongest-sounding gems of the night. ‘New you’ sounded clear and taut and featured bassist Debbie Googe on backing vocals replicating Butcher’s overdubbed maze of cooing on the album version. ‘Only tomorrow’ could’ve gone on forever as far as I was concerned—the three-guitar attack that closed it out was breathtaking. Then there was ‘wonder 2’—which was dynamic, complex and impressive to watch anyone pull off successfully in a live environment. How all five of them played interlocked guitars along to its clipped rhythm and flanged jungle beat was beyond me. The song seems to have a billion chords that change almost at random. They also played a fierce version of ‘Tremolo’ EP highlight ‘Honey Power’ where the fullness of the mix really came to life—those three overlapped guitars during the intro and the breaks were perfect.
While there was a lot repeated from their previous outing none of the songs sounded tired or uninspired. Highlights from the older stuff for me were ‘Cigarette in Your Bed,’ ‘Only Shallow,’ ‘Soon,’ and ‘To Here Knows When’ all sounding more invigorated than they had in 2008. ‘I Only Said,’ ‘You Never Should’ and ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ were the only casualties of the impenetrable wading pool of bassy mush. Then, of course, there was ‘You Made me Realise’ and it’s ‘holocaust section.’ Somehow, no matter how obligatory or expected it is it never fails to deliver as the overwhelming sensory-deprivation experience it is always hyped to be—truly beautiful. During the show I kept pushing my earplugs all the way into my ears as I would get a brief glimpse of how truly loud it was in the room while they expanded back into place. Every atom of air surrounding me quaked like a million tuning forks during the impenetrable wall of noise. It was amazing. I closed my eyes and let the whole thing push me back and forth as it saw fit. Complete surrender. When they broke back into the song it sounded like a soft whisper in contrast. It was a bit truncated at only 12 minutes, which is as good a note as any to end on—how many bands do you hear any such sentence applied to them?