My ears are still ringing.
It's a singular, high-tensile tone that buzzes unrelentingly in my head. The swirling jet engine cacophony that caused this to happen seeped through my ear plugs and went in straight for the kill. I should be resentful or angry, even, but I was warned ahead of time. Twenty or so years ago, really.
So it was that legendary Irish shoegaze foundation-pavers My Bloody Valentine glided into to San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium to wash their fervent audience in equal parts distortion, feedback and honey sweet harmonies. And as is the legend of this band's propensity to play their blissed-out melodies at eardrum-shattering, audience patience-testing levels, My Bloody Valentine did not disappoint.
Playing to a packed house (or auditorium, as it were), the mood was semi-charged. Against a blue-hued backdrop bearing the band's abbreviated self-titled album, m b v (released early this year), the capacity crowd consisting of fans old and new (hipsters, psychers, mods, goths, glitter punks, and a middle-aged woman in a mini skirt and sheer top accentuating her floppy breasts, etc.) waiting in anticipation, hollering and whooping sporadically. It wasn't until the lights finally dimmed and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig bounded out on to the stage that the audience finally erupted into cheers and claps. He was soon followed by bassist Debbie Googe, guitarist and vocalist Bilinda Butcher, touring keyboardist and guitarist Jen Marco, and the man himself: My Bloody Valentines' OCD perfectionist and Jazz Master-manipulating tone bender, Kevin Shields.
It was right then and there that I dawned on me: I'm in the same room with these people! The band responsible for what is widely considered an alt-indie masterpiece, Loveless. The band that promised a follow-up to that blistering, genre-defining album, and finally did so 22 years later despite one-off song releases, band break-ups, personal break-ups, and reunion tours. The band I've spent countless time, money and effort collecting every scrap of sonic minutia of since joyfully discovering back in 1994. There they were, not 20 feet away from where I stood. Not even the cold, hard, sole-destroying floors of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium could diminish the sheer awe-inspired joy I felt at that moment being in this band's presence.
As pot smoke swirled above the crowd, My Bloody Valentine launched into the sonic boom wallop of "I Only Said." Butcher stood poised at her microphone, strumming her glitter green guitar and singing in her signature glazed coo, while Ó Cíosóig beat his drum kit into submission and Googe provided her crouched-knee bass dancing techniques. Shields, with his chin-length shag gone grey, was flanked by a rack of guitars on one side and a wall of amps that easily dwarfed the biggest Expidit bookshelf Ikea has to offer on the other.
"Play louder!" was the "free bird" of the night, and Shields and company were happy to oblige these oh-so clever members of their audience. Culling most of their set from Loveless, the band inter-spliced with material from that album's bookend releases, Isn't Anything and m b v , as well as EP cuts such "Cigarette In Your Bed" and "Honey Power" sprinkled in for good measure--all at the highest volume possible. At certain points during the show, ears where covered despite being corked with plugs (which were provided for free at the door by the management). Couples snaked out from the center of the crowd sporadically, perhaps overcome by the din, or to escape the epilepsy-inducing visuals projected on the wall behind the band. People went out into the hallways for a respite. Someone even reportedly passed out, and quickly regained consciousness again.
It was glorious!
In yet another signature move, the band closed their set, as they're notoriously want to to do, with an a feedback-drenched ender that went well past the 10 minute mark. This time it was an extended version of "You Made Me Realise" from Isn't Anything. Shields has sited in some review or another that he carries on these finale caterwauls until he feels that he has connected with the one person in the audience who at first doesn't get it, but then eventually submits to the ear-bleeding trance bombarding them. Once Shields has registered that said audience member is perfectly mesmerised, he and the band can then wrap it up. "Enjoying that sonic euphoria, yeah? Splendid. Well, goodnight everyone!"
I wouldn't have missed this show for the world. Of course, I'll miss being able to hear anything without a constant ringing in my ears. But then again, after a night of music with this band, the new constant white noise companion in my head was well worth it.