My Bloody Valentine at the Aragon Ballroom
Chicago, September 27, 2008
They had told me that it would be the loudest concert I’d ever attended. They foretold of amazing sonic onslaughts. They said that it would be unlike any other show I’d seen.
They were right.
My Bloody Valentine came to the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago last Saturday, and delivered a concert at a level of intensity I don’t expect to ever see again.
After being unable to satisfactorily follow up the legendary Loveless album, the group dissolved in the mid-90s amid Kevin Shields‘ legendary perfectionism. Since then, lead singer Bilinda Butcher became a housewife, bass-playin’ Debbie Googe joined Snowpony and drove a cab, Colm O’Ciosoig played drums with Hope Sandoval, and Kevin Shields popped his head up only occasionally.
Shields produced a few songs on Primal Scream‘s XTRMNTR and toured with the Scream when they came to North America. I had thought that was the closest I’d ever get to seeing My Bloody Valentine. Imagine how thrilled I was to hear that I’d get the chance to see them…and in Chicago! I had always regretted missing them the last time they came around, sixteen years ago.
Needless to say, I had high expectations. And each one was exceeded at the Aragon.
I’m happy to report that time has not compromised My Bloody Valentine’s marauding sounds one iota; it’s amazing to realize that for all the ungodly noise and sheets of sound, that it was only four people making all those sounds. Drums came at you like gunshots; snares pierced like buckshot through sheet-metal. The guitars sounded like baying hounds. Somehow, Kevin Shields is able to reproduce onstage all of the mysterious guitar sounds that he achieved in the studio.
And throughout, Shields and Bilinda Butcher stood nearly motionless on either side of the stage, peacefully blowing our minds with extreme sonic violence. Only Debbie Googe and baby-faced Colm O’Ciosoig looked like they were rocking; Kevin and Bilinda may as well have been reciting poems by Burns to a coffeehouse audience for all the excitement they outwardly showed. When they weren’t looking at the audience, they did indeed gaze down at their shoes. But they were smiling when they did it, probably just as thrilled as we were that they were there. The strobe lights deliberately obscured the band, intense and unrelenting, like the music.
They opened with “I Only Said”, and everyone immediately realized that this was going to be the loudest show we’d ever attended. I brought quality ear plugs, but even through them, I knew that only a small piece of foam was saving me from hearing damage. For four songs, I braved the full onslaught without the earplugs, and was shocked by the volume.
The crowning set piece was the stunning “You Made Me Realise.” For twenty-six minutes, they unleashed what’s known as The Holocaust upon the audience. In the studio version, they let a chord hang for about a minute; live, that chord is replaced with intense, unrelenting noise. Before the song started, I made a deal with the devil and decided to go this song without earplugs, fully aware that it would be long. For the duration of the song, I looked at the crowd. Many knew what to expect. There were people who chose to be taken by the moment, raising their hands heavenward. Some raised their fists to the sky, face scrunched up, just taking in the Noise. Others were peaceful, absorbing the scathing, undulating, phase-shifting distortion. About fifteen minutes in, I realized that this is what it must sound like being inside a jet engine running at full-roar. It was a noise so intense you felt it with your entire body. I honestly wondered if I would be able to leave the Aragon with hearing intact, but knew that if it had to be lost, a moment as unreal as “You Made Me Realise” would be one for the books.
The concert was an absolutely gargantuan, an unbelievable show. My wife gave the tickets to me as an early Christmas gift, and unfortunately had to pay triple face value. Ladies and gentlemen, I assure you we got every penny’s worth. I kept having to remind myself: against all odds, I am seeing My Bloody Valentine, something I never thought would ever happen.
They’re as amazing today as their legend suggests. It was an unmitigated triumph.
Although if you should ever find yourself at a My Bloody Valentine concert, you’d better bring your earplugs. I recommend Leight Sleepers, a fine brand that cuts the edge by 30 dBs or so. And be prepared for the most visceral show you’ve ever been to.
1) I Only Said
2) When You Sleep
3) You Never Should
4) You’re Still In a Dream
5) Cigarette In Your Bed
6) Come In Alone
7) Only Shallow
8 ) Thorn
9) Nothing Much To Lose
10) To Here Knows When
13) Feed Me With Your Kiss
14) You Made Me Realize