Live Review: My Bloody Valentine @ The National, July 30, 2009

I first listened to Loveless, the seminal My Bloody Valentine record (and shoegaze record, for that matter; not to mention one of the albums that changed my life) years and years after the initial release. At the time, I often lamented the notion that I took to be fact: That I would never, ever get to experience the blistering, scrambling fuzz of wanderlust that was the MBV live show. Heck, I considered myself beyond lucky to have seen MBV's own version of Brian Wilson, Kevin Shields, play with Primal Scream, back in 2000.

But last year, this formerly iron-clad idea about never seeing MBV live was gloriously proven false, as I was privvy to what I can only describe as an awe-inspiring performance to close 2008's edition of All Tomorrow's Parties. I'm fairly certain I spent most of their set with jaw agape and eyes glazed, wondering how such an unholy noise could sound so perfectly beautiful. When it was all over, I counted my lucky stars, happy beyond belief that I could cross "see My Bloody Valentine live" off my "do this before you're dead" list. I never would have imagined that I would see them again live, and in my own backyard no less. My Bloody Valentine in Richmond? Nonsense.

Turns out, it wasn't such a nonsensical thought.

Eschewing all the traditional stops for a band of their legendary stature, Shields and co. opted to play The National, a superb venue in its own right, but hardly of the standing of any number of venues up and down the East Coast (and, for that matter, the whole of the U.S.).

I don't know that I've ever seen The National so packed, nor a Richmond audience rendered so enraptured. Walking into the place to the strains of "When You Sleep" was one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had, and as I collected my purple earplugs and read the signs cautioning me about the decibel levels and seizure-inducing strobes I felt like I was floating on a sea of splendid noise. Fairly early on, it was pretty obvious that there was something amiss with the sound of the vocals - despite the typical, mostly unintelligble muddle of MBV vocals, on this night they were at times flat-out inaudible. It wasn't enough to negate the performance by any means, but was noticeable all the same. Vocals aside, the band was glorious.

It was like being stuck in a time warp with no particular destination in sight, a lunatic whirl of feedback and distortion hell-bent on self-destruction but incapable of complete combustion. The best thing about My Bloody Valentine, in my humble opinion, is the effect they have: I feel, moreso than with just about any other band, that they can make time stop. I lost all concept of time, of space, of everything. When you're seeing MBV live, it's as though nothing else in the entire world matters. Their music is beyond hypnotic. Wave after wave of the crushing din crashes over you. It glows, it pulsates, it pulls you into places nothing else can. With MBV, I constantly think of the title of a Spacemen 3 album: Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To. Except, in this case, the music is the drug.

I kept mentally pinching myself to make sure I was awake, make sure this was all really happening. Who among the crowd didn't get a kick out of the false starts of "Only Shallow", and I think I might have even spied a smile on the face of Kevin Shields (though, to be fair, I was about as far from the stage as you can get). And there's just something indescribably wonderful about hearing songs like "To Here Knows When" in a place where you wouldn't have ever guessed you would.

I'll be a little controversial here and say that a) I felt like the set I saw at All Tomorrow's Parties was a smidgeon more impressive, and b) will agree with Laura, who said she felt like The Black Angels set we saw at SXSW was louder. Never before have I so strongly felt as though the sound of a band would literally knock me down the way The Black Angels nearly did. But it was quite probably the best show Richmond will see in 2009, and to paraphrase my friend Mark, it's My Bloody Valentine in Richmond. Be grateful. And grateful I am.


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