Words By: Andrew Bruss
My Bloody Valentine :: 11.13.13 :: House of Blues :: Boston, MA
Nobody is as loud as My
Valentine and plenty of folks at Boston’s House of Blues found this out the hard way.
Anyone who’d done a quick Google search would have found that these standard-bearers of
shoegaze alt. rock are
notoriously fond of testing their audience's decibel tolerance, and seeing as the venue
was giving out earplugs for
free, there wasn’t much of an excuse to be unprepared.
The last time My Bloody Valentine performed in the Hub, Bill Clinton was still Governor of
Arkansas. That said, the
only material they’d released since 1991’s Loveless was this past February’s
surprise release of the
semi-self titled mbv. The bulk of the performance was made up of tunes from these
two releases and the few
exceptions to the rule came off of B-sides and EP’s that only the most loyal fans would be
Loveless is widely regarded as one of the most influential guitar-based records
of the 1990’s and this
is in large part due to the unorthodox guitar tones that electric alchemist Kevin Shields
gets out of his Fender Jaguar.
In addition to using an array of effects pedals that multiply the guitar signal and invert
the reverb of his instrument,
Shields makes use of the tremolo arm attached to the guitar bridge in a way that is both
excessive and innovative.
The tremolo arm allows a guitar player to tighten or weaken the tension of the strings,
effectively raising and
lowering the pitch of each note accordingly. While you hear guys like Eddie Van Halen and
Jimi Hendrix use this
technique on their solos, Shields keeps the tremolo arm in his hand at all times, bending
it with every single strum.
The end result creates an intentionally inconsistent tonal structure that empowers the
subtle sounds that rest
between the half notes Western pop music revolves around.
The stage dynamic between the four members was an interesting hybrid of on-stage
chemistry. Shields and the other
vocalist/guitarist, Bilinda Butcher, strummed their way through ear-piercing waves of
soundscapes that featured the two players staring out across their audience, as if in a
trance. Meanwhile, the
drummer and bassist were locked in on each other throughout the entire night. Their eye
contact was unbreakable
and the limb-flailing physicality of their playing at center stage stood in stark contrast
to their bandmates spaced-
out approach that gave credence to the term shoegaze.
“Only Shallow” and “Soon,” the album openers and closer for Loveless, may have
gotten the audience
the most excited, but their set closing “You Made Me Realize,” is what folks left the show
talking about. My Bloody
Valentine has been closing their shows with “Realize” for years, and while the studio
version is under four minutes
long, in the live setting, the group famously inserts about ten minutes of the loudest
distortion you’ll ever hear
before a chorus reprise that ends the concert. With professional earplugs custom shaped
for an attendee’s ear canal,
it was still enough to give you a headache. The tune doesn’t even appear on any of their
proper studio albums, but a
My Bloody Valentine show without an auditorily abusive “You Made Me Realize” is like Phish
playing “You Enjoy
Myself” without trampolines.
The band played the exact same set at the tour stop before Boston, and they played it
again at the following date in
Philly, but with a sound as uniquely crafted as My Bloody Valentine’s, the fact that they
are even able to reproduce
their studio material on the road is a testament to their legacy of innovation.
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