If quiet really is the new loud, someone forgot to tell My Bloody Valentine. The reunited band's Tuesday night London show was certainly heavy on volume, if surprisingly light on new material.
Staff handed out earplugs to 5,000 fans on arrival at Hammersmith Apollo, the first of two dates at the venue serving as a climax to the band's first tour since the surprise appearance of new album MBV last month. While much of the show was pitched just the right side of deafening, hearing protection was certainly needed for an epic version of "You Made Me Realise." The set's penultimate song, it saw guitarist/vocalist Kevin Shields hammering away at the same chord for almost 10 brutal, feedback-drenched minutes.
That had many fans covering their ears and even sent a few scurrying for the exits, although others raised their arms and were lost in reverie. But the rest of the set was just as effective – if usually more subtle – at highlighting the enduring appeal of My Bloody Valentine's signature noise-pop sound.
The set began with the powerful indie dance groove of "I Only Said," taken from the band's classic 1991 album, Loveless, which provided the spine of the set. Six songs from that album were aired, including uncompromising versions of "Only Shallow," "To Here Knows When" and a pulsating "Soon."
But while the follow-up album may have taken 22 years to arrive, songs from MBV had no problem gelling with the rest of the set, sounding almost like a sonic continuation of where the preceding record left off. "New You" saw Shields' phased guitar blending with singer-guitarist Bilinda Butcher's blissed-out vocals, while "Only Tomorrow" brought a harder-edged guitar grind to proceedings.
Meanwhile, set closer "Wonder 2" – which saw drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig come out from behind his kit to play additional guitar – was the loudest, spikiest new song on display, although it still sounded like light relief after the aural assault of "You Made Me Realise."
Ó Cíosóig and bassist Debbie Googe provided most of the onstage movement, urging each other on as the band locked into a mesmerizing groove on songs such as "Slow" and "Thorn." The band has been back playing together since 2008, although there was little of the easy nostalgia or ostentatious bonhomie often seen with reunited acts. While shouts of "We love you!" could be heard from the crowd during the few quieter moments, Shields said maybe 10 words all evening, most of them inaudible, and Butcher even less, both standing impassive during even the most musically extreme moments.
Fortunately, the music spoke volumes, with even older songs such as "You Never Should" and "Feed Me With Your Kiss," from 1988's Isn't Anything, sounding thrillingly contemporary, while some visual spectacle was provided by relentless strobe lighting and the projection of arty, blurry images onto the backdrop throughout. Shields briefly switched to acoustic guitar on "Cigarette in Your Bed," although even then the resulting version was anything but mellow.
Nothing could compare, however, to the maelstrom of white noise that was "You Made Me Realise," which left many of the crowd stunned into silence.
My Bloody Valentine's U.K. tour concludes Wednesday at the same venue. The good news for those with shares in earplug manufacture is that further dates in Japan, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Norway, Poland and Germany have been announced for the summer.
"I Only Said"
"When You Sleep"
"You Never Should"
"Cigarette in Your Bed"
"Come in Alone"
"Nothing Much to Lose"
"To Here Knows When"
"Feed Me With Your Kiss"
"You Made Me Realise"