Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Bloody Valentine, 9/27/08, Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL

Nobody else that I asked was willing to shell out the $50 it took to see My Bloody Valentine's Chicago date, but those that didn't, and those that don't take the opportunity to see them in whatever other few random American cities with which they happen to be gracing their presence over the coming days (readers in Santa Monica, CA, I am talking to you) should be ashamed and regretful that they allow people such as myself to go to concerts alone and have to experience something as climactic and awe-inspiring without the added pleasure of having shared in that experience with a friend. Of course, I heard the comments of the people surrounding me--your typical concert banter--derision for the opening band (Hopewell, who I found to be above-average and sounding a little bit like Spiritualized)--people-watching comments about other people's t-shirts--random bits of stories about other people not in attendance that I would never know--people goofing on the title of epic closing number, calling it "Do You Realize?" while their other friends laughed at and corrected them.

Of course, the point I find amazing is that nobody, NOBODY, gave me any trouble about the way I was spending the beginning of the show, which must have seemed exceedingly odd. I was writing on graph paper, a letter to a friend, while standing up in the line outside, while walking towards the entrance gate, while sitting on the floor of the Aragon Ballroom for the hour and fifteen or twenty minutes before Hopewell went on, and while standing on the floor when the lack of overhead light and discomfort of writing with my back bent and my head hanging down became too great a strain. I dare not make any conversation with anyone. I dare not admit to anyone that yes, I was in fact, there alone. I dare not get onto the subject of what I do, which is nothing. Which must have seemed very strange to my immediate neighbors for the show. But they didn't say anything about it. They accepted it. This was a My Bloody Valentine concert--it was probably okay to be alone and depressed at it. Some might say those circumstances might even be the ideal conditions for maximum pleasure at it.

After Hopewell finished, you could sense the anticipation in the air. That sounds like a lame cliche sentence, but it's true. People were ecstatic to know that within minutes, the band they had listened to on record (many of those in the audience could not have possibly seen them sixteen years ago--it is worth noting that the two people in front of me in the outdoor line had seen them in their heyday, and thoughtfully brought their twelve-year-old children with them for this show--obviously excellent parents) over and over again, ad nauseum, for the last seven years (at least in my case, and probably the case for anybody introduced to MBV, so flawlessly narrowed is their discography, so easy it is to own it all, and listen to it all, over and over) were actually going to be in front of them, in person, playing those same songs. When they took the stage and launched into "I Only Said" as their opening song, everybody was collectively blown away by the actuality of what was happening in front of us.

One other thing worth noting: the staff at the Aragon Ballroom are, in fact, rude, as reports on indicate. They did hand out earplugs at the door for everyone, but they made clear they were "compliments of the band" (this staff would never do a thing for you, except try to make you feel pathetic and scared). Case in point: they had to check my bag. And when the guy (who even looked like he might be nicer than the rest) opened it, he had to ask, "I'm not going to find anything in here, am I?" to which I replied, quietly, "No," to which he replied, "That didn't sound very confident." I hate it when people judge me based on their interpretation of my confidence level--it's one of the few aspects to being alive that makes me look forward to being dead. That is probably getting melodramatic though.
So me, and everyone else in the audience, at least everyone in my general vicinity, wore earplugs for the entire show. Might it have been more awesome to hear it without earplugs? Yes. Might have we all suffered hearing damage? Yes. This was clearly the loudest show I had ever been to in my life. Dinosaur Jr. (November 15(?), 2005 at Metro, and Mudhoney, September 1, 2006 at Double Door, take positions #2 and #3). "I Only Said" was loud. And the second song, "When You Sleep," seemed so loud, I fearfully thought, that the speakers had broken.

A distinct crackling could be heard during this second song, and I was afraid that it would happen for the rest of the concert, and that no one in the band could notice it, and that no one in the concert soundstage would be able to fix it. Thankfully, it was only present during this one song, the only song I would say was less enjoyable than listening to the same song on record, at a loud volume.

They played "You Never Should," which may be my most favorite MBV song of all third, which made me insanely happy. Here though, I should point out my lone criticism of the show, the only point on which I believe it disappointed slightly. The songs were not as flawlessly performed as on record. The vocals were buried even deeper than they are on record. You can barely make out what Kevin Shields or Blinda Butcher is singing on record, but live, you could almost never tell. Even when you knew the lyrics (or had an idea of them) it seemed like you might be mixing up the verses.
After the first three, it is hard for me to remember the other songs they played, but I will attempt to list something approaching their setlist right here:

"I Only Said"
"When You Sleep"
"You Never Should"
"To Here Knows When"
"Nothing Much to Lose" (a slightly longer machine-gun drum part beat live)
"Cigarette in Your Bed"
"Only Shallow" (a slightly different melody on that oh-so-familiar lead guitar part live)
"Feed Me With Your Kiss"
"You Made Me Realise"
Please note two things: this setlist is by no means 100% correct. I think they may have played "Come in Alone," and maybe a couple of others. Those I remember them playing for sure. I wish they had played "Loomer," "Sometimes," "What You Want," "Sueisfine," "Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)," "Cupid Come," or "When You Wake (You're Still in a Dream)." Also, these pictures I am including do not do justice to the incredible lighting on display during the performance--it was the most disorienting light show I have also ever seen at a concert. Added to that, there was a malfunction in my camera in which the three pictures on my memory card had to be deleted in order to get any included at all--it's a shame because those pictures were better, but these will have to do, and besides, plenty of other people have taken pictures of this current incarnation. It's not like I'm the only one documenting this reunion--it's just nobody really gets into the details of it, nobody really explains what it is like to be a die-hard fan and actually get to see them.
It does look like a paltry set list there alone on its own. But nobody could be disappointed by the wealth of material played off of the You Made Me Realise EP, and no one could complain, period, after "You Made Me Realise," the song. It was, indisputably, the single greatest concert experience of my life. Blinda Butcher said, "Thank you for coming out tonight," and Kevin Shields said, "Yeah, thanks." That was all the stage banter for the entire evening. And right after that, they played the opening riffs to "You Made Me Realise," and you could tell they had a great time starting out that song. I always wondered how people could talk about the 17 minute version of the song when the version I have on my iPod is only like two or two and a half minutes. Well, they play the two and a half minute song, and then the squall begins. The best way I can describe the noise is like the sound of a giant aircraft taking off inside the auditorium. The rumble from this sound reached a degree of sheer volume that I had never before experienced. It was an unprecedented loudness to my ears. There were bits of guitar screeching and noodling amidst this massive drone, but it was the aircraft sound that was most memorable. That, and a bunch of people raising their hands in the air to feel the sound coming out of the speakers. Well, people talk about Sonic Youth being a "noise band." I have to say, having seen Sonic Youth many times, they do not try to punish their audience with noise the way My Bloody Valentine do. And it is a willing, awesome punishment we all experienced together. Sonic Youth is to noise as an art exhibit as My Bloody Valentine is to noise as a mystical experience, otherwise only attainable through hallucinogenic drugs, or fasting or going without sleep for days. That is not taking anything away from Sonic Youth. It's just that, when they played "Karen Revisited" or "Mote"--it's just kind of a little drone and it gets a little boring. "You Made Me Realise" is a drone that never got boring because you couldn't believe it was actually getting that loud. But most amazing was all was when it ended, and when they went back into regular guitar-chorus part of the song again. And it was briefly totally quiet, and then heavy again for another minute or two. Then the show was over. And I have never been in an audience as dazed as that one after that song. Most people in the front were content not to move. When we finally did get going, it was probably the slowest exit I have ever experienced from a music venue (Aragon Ballroom is pretty huge, to be fair) and there was no shortage of praise expressed in random comments heard from random strangers. There was no cynicism--I heard one kid say, "They didn't play 'Sometimes,'" in a sarcastic-sounding voice. No one expressed disappointment. No one was left unmoved. My point is, if you have a chance to see this band, go, pay the $50. And if you missed it around this time, my message to the band is, put out a new record and tour the U.S. again. I will definitely be there if they do.

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