My Bloody Valentine @ Manchester Apollo, 11 March
“They are supposed to be as loud as an aeroplane taking off!” are the first words we hear walking out of the bitter Manchester cold and into the Apollo for the My Bloody Valentine (mbV) gig. We look at each other in alarm before spotting the ‘EARPLUGS CAN BE FOUND AT EVERY POINT OF SALE’ signs and making a mad last minute dash to procure ear protection. The girls are now reporting “ready for the onslaught to the senses that is mbV. “
Followers of mbV are of course already prepared; they’ve been waiting for years for this. mbV are returning from a seriously long hiatus, 21 years to be exact. Many bands would be lost into the barren musical wastelands after just a two year break but mbV have managed to retain their fanbase and release an album that journalists have been chomping at the bit to review. We’re keen to understand just what the draw is.
The first thing we notice as the band quietly takes to the stage is the impressive light show on display. Pinwheels of colour encircle the group as they all but disappear into the mind-blowing psychedelic scenery. As soon as the first guitar chord is strummed it becomes abundantly clear that nobody was joking about the volume. Accompanied by the often harsh lightning flashes of stroke lighting the show is sporadically a painful attack on the senses. While seasoned fans find it all part of the course it takes the newcomers clutching onto their earplugs longer to acclimatise.
Despite these dramatic visual and aural displays mbV is not a showy band. They rarely leave their comfortable positions on stage. Bilinda Butcher stands at the front looking impossibly chic and uber cool, totally unperturbed by the whole experience. There is little to no interaction with the crowd except for a random Mother’s Day greeting. mbV remain a complete enigma. The volume of the music makes it extremely difficult to distinguish any vocals over the intricate layers of instrumentals. When we do hear a voice it is impossible to determine what is being sung; any message in the music remains a complete mystery, but then maybe the music itself needs no explanation.
The main critique of the show has to be that much like the psychedelic backdrop the show rides in waves of peaks and troughs; it’s fairly inconsistent. The guitar-led tracks are much more accessible and more enjoyable than the harder, brutal numbers. There are a couple of false starts which are taken well by the adoring crowd. Most inexplicable is the roughly five minute long creation of pure ear-splitting noise towards the end of the set which does legitimately sound like an aeroplane taking off. It seems to come from nowhere and adds little.
To say that attending an mbV gig is like coming up against a wall of sound would be a gross understatement; a wall of noise would be more accurate, if unfair to the genuinely artistry on display. There’s no doubt they are a talented set of musicians with longevity and appeal, we just wouldn’t mind if they turned the volume switch down a notch or two so we didn’t need to order a new set of ear drums on the way out. Then again, that complete disregard for the limits of sound is what makes mbV very different, and possibly quite special.
mbV continue to tour Europe throughout May