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My Bloody Valentine: ICA sets the tone for Roundhouse shows
Kev Kharas , June 20th, 2008 16:57

A week ago My Bloody Valentine pulverised the ICA by way of a rehearsal for their siege of the Camden Roundhouse. Kev Kharas was there to get a taste of what to expect from this weekend's gigs.

My Bloody Valentine

Before we begin, there are a few people that need to be told to get fucked " shout out number one and playful dead arm to the soundman who’s destroyed my ability to stand up straight. My inner ear and the balance that its three little bones provide are still shell-shocked and cowering inside my skull some 18 hours after ’You Made Me Realise’ has finally drawn to a close. Sterling work brother, especially given a lack of ear plugs. Less amiable salutations are extended to the girl in front who spent the set sucking MDMA from her boyfriend’s index finger, slow-snaking her hips and twining both crow hands over her head, in that vaguely spiritual and infuriatingly smug way of a woman ’channeling the vibes’.

The only excuse on offer for such bile is the sweet tonic of eulogy " My Bloody Valentine are incredible for large parts of the hour and a half they’re onstage tonight, even if vocals that used to be buried in the mix have now sunk so low they’ll be topping up fossil fuel reserves should Kevin Shields and co. resurface in another 16 years. The result leaves us with what’s essentially an instrumental set, but that’s understandable. If Shields or Bilinda Butcher were to raise their whisper to compete with this unprecedented din the more sensitive of these 700 or so eardrums would pop like snails under hobnailed boot. We can surely expect the balance between noise and voice to even out at the more cavernous and sound-consuming Roundhouse next weekend.

Tonight’s ordeal begins with ’Only Shallow’; an exhilarating if predictable opener that comes after a caveat from the chief. “Welcome to our rehearsal,” he says. “The real gigs start next week at the Roundhouse”. Nothing stunning, but Shields won’t say another word all evening, save the odd shake of the head to dismiss a crowd that barks for ’Cupid Come’ and ’What You Want’. Ridiculous cries of “Louder!” come from a few saucy brats and you wonder if the 45-year-old doesn’t look out across the room and sigh at the sight of younger faces trying so hard to ’get’ something they’ll never see in its natural state. All of which poses the question: where is Kevin Shields’ place on this red letter day? There's no sign of new material, but clad in modest attire the guitarist seems quietly above everything that goes on tonight. There’s menace there too, the same menace I caught in the eyes of Sunday League fathers as they warmed up for the annual Dads V Lads football match and wondered whether they would go in as hard on a brittle-boned 11-year-old as they would a 40-year-old hod-carrier from Slough.

Thankfully what follows is the sound of 40,000 undeveloped shins snapping in two. The sheer weight of sound filling the ICA is exhausting and disorientating because there’s nothing you can see that seems capable of making this much noise. While bassist Debbie Googe rocks back and forth in front of Colm O’Closoig’s drum kit, Butcher and Shields give off no indication that they’re aware of the outbreak of tinnitus they’re spreading. We’re stood about six foot from a speaker stack stage-right, but the noise sounds like it’s coming from everywhere, an invisible load shunting air molecules into a busy, frantic fog, My Bloody Valentine coolly willing it into solid form. It’s even harder to detect the source of the threat when loop pedals are enlisted, as they are to provide the easy treble floating above ’Soon’.

The control that the quartet exert over the room’s empty spaces is such that the slurred, delayed guitars begin to slow time. Another look around at the audience finds underwater dancers with rolling eyes and yawns, even. The knees of a man stationed a foot from a monitor at the head of the stage visibly weaken. From the back he’s had to us all night I’d assumed youth to be on his side. But as he turns to bail during ’Feed Me With Your Kiss’ wrinkles appear around the rim of a cap and a full, white beard unfurls down to his trucker shirt. The track keeps kicking and bucking as he’s chased from the room, shards of guitar hacking at the straps of his parachute back into the calm of central London.

My Bloody Valentine could generate all the volume they wanted but it would be nothing without an appreciation of restraint. It’s a quality that’s stark in the vocals but has its roots in O’Ciosoig’s drumming " where others would let beats flail wildly, dragging the weight of noise behind like a snarling dog, O’Ciosoig’s happy just to systematically pin it down, marking time, making the surge relentless rather than frenzied.

If all that wasn’t enough, My Bloody Valentine conjure a devil with ’You Made Me Realise’, a grand finale so obtuse and overwhelming that it makes everything gone before seem like the gentle womb in comparison. Halfway through this 20 minute noise freak-out and I’m swaying involuntarily as huge bass looms up through the earth. The psychedelic backdrop and strobe lighting that have spent the night flinching in some strange unison are afforded a power surge every time MBV decide to ramp the racket up a peg. This happens a lot. By now my eyes are sprung wide open and have gone the same way as my ears, my mouth’s contorted into an untameable grin and my legs feel like water. Five minutes later the lights come up and patches in the crowd begin to grow. The reverence in which My Bloody Valentine are held is revealed to some extent as members of The Horrors and a Fuck Button look on wide-eyed but by this point I’m beyond that and in hysterics at the absurdity of this rising clamour. Over the course of the last few minutes the smug hippy chick is on her knees, reduced to a foetal ball, sobbing into her sandals. How do you like transcendence now, Shiva? This is amazing. Punish the hippy. Punish her, Shields. Pummel her into the floor with your brilliant, brilliant noise.

Setlist:

'Only Shallow' 'You Never Should' 'Honey Power' 'I Only Said' 'Cigarette In Your Bed' 'Thorn' 'Nothing Much To Lose' 'To Here Knows When' 'When You Sleep' 'Slow' 'Blown A Wish' 'Soon' 'Feed Me With Your Kiss' 'Sueisfine' 'You Made Me Realise'

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