Review | My Bloody Valentine | Boston

By Scott Bernstein Nov 13, 2013 7:40 am PST

Words By: Andrew Bruss

My Bloody Valentine :: 11.13.13 :: House of Blues :: Boston, MA

Nobody is as loud as My Bloody 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 familiar with.

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 aggressively euphoric 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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