"The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain." - Scotty, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
This is supposed to be My Bloody Valentine's year. After 20 years of silence, the band finally returned with an incredible third LP, m b v. For all the hype that continues to surround 1991's Loveless, Kevin Shields and company are still capable of crafting dreamy, heavy, swirling soundscapes. So when they announced an American tour, it felt like a victory lap. It's easy to forget now, but My Bloody Valentine's legacy lies largely in what happened in their absence. Bands ranging from Deftones to M83 carried their banner while MBV ended up frozen by Shields' perfectionist yet idle work ethic. MBV's set at Philadelphia's Electric Factory Nov. 9 unfortunately proved that this attitude applied to live shows as well.
After a lifeless opening set from Dumb Numbers (think either a sludgy Ride or a shoegazing Mudhoney), the band stepped out to play their first show in Philadelphia since 1992. The set aimed to gradually amp up in intensity, but that didn't stop Shields' acoustic guitar from sounding like a jet engine on opener "Sometimes." "I Only Said" and "When You Sleep" formed a trilogy of Loveless songs, and it sounded amazing. MBV is legendary for being so loud that the listeners experience auditory phenomena. That is to say, they hear notes that aren't really there because of the sensory overload. For context, an airplane taking off generates about 140 decibels. MBV's shows typically come in just under that. This was gloriously true for the beginning of the show.
And then something bad happened.
It started off small. Shields missed one of drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig's counts into a song and came in late. Haha, human error. But then the wheels started coming off. Shields screwed up more and more. His equipment started failing. At times it seemed like it was the guitar tech's fault–one acoustic guitar was clearly not even amplified right. But other times the band would get minutes into a song before Shields would decide that something was wrong.
And here's the thing about MBV: Even though they're one of my favorite bands of all time, I understand why people would deride their output as being "just noise." So when Shields started freaking out about how his guitars were making the "wrong" kind of noise, part of me felt like he could have just bent the sound towards something. Anything. I was reminded of another guitar-centric 2013 reunion, Greg Ginn's Black Flag. Mock Ginn all you want (no seriously); live, he used a single pedal and a whole lot of training to play free form with his band. He was loud and fierce and he didn't care if he was off tempo, and that made him better. Shields could not adjust to the impromptu problems that arise live, which is why, when he fucked up for the fifth time, I left.
I read that the sound problems didn't get better after I exited. Some folks thought it was still a brilliant, albeit troubled set. Others thought it was a huge disappointment. All I could think about was how I couldn't even recognize my favorite MBV song ("Only Shallow") when it was played live.
I Only Said
When You Sleep
You Never Should
Cigarette in Your Bed
Come in Alone
Nothing Much to Lose
Who Sees You
To Here Knows When
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realise