My Bloody Valentine - Manchester Apollo
In what has to be the most highly anticipated series of shows so far this century, Kevin Shields has finally got round to playing live for the first time in over 15 years. Having bought the tickets six months ago, and knowing that Shields has a reputation for being an awkward bugger, I wasn't really expecting this show to go ahead. But by the afternoon of the gig, I was feeling more optimistic as I'd spoken to people who had seen the band play at London's Roundhouse the previous week. I also had some idea of what to expect, having got hold of a recording of the warm-up show at the ICA. So, despite warnings that the decibel levels at the London show had exceeded the legal limits, I bravely/foolishly positioned myself directly in front of the left-hand speaker stack, where I could get a good view of Bilinda and also become fully immersed in the psychedelic projections at the back of the stage. I started to feel apprehensive when I noticed that those who'd attended the previous show were standing much further back, but as most readers will be aware, my hearing is already totally wrecked so I didn't think MBV could do any further damage.
At first, the sound levels were not particularly uncomfortable, but gradually built up to a deafening volume towards the end of the set. I'm reliably informed that this is different from last week's shows, which were painful from the very beginning. I guess that most people who didn't attend will want to know exactly what songs are being played. I haven't managed to find a setlist, so I'll try to recreate the listing from memory and by looking at the setlist from the ICA show. I believe the set went something like this:
I Only Said
When You Sleep
You Never Should
When You Wake You're Still In A Dream
Lose My Breath
Come In Alone
Nothing Much To Lose
To Here Knows When
Blown A Wish
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realise
I don't think that's in exactly the right order but it should give some idea of the kind of nostalgia that's on offer. There were some noticeable changes compared to the ICA bootleg that I've been listening to. In Manchester they chose to open with "I Only Said" followed by "When You Sleep", which are undeniably two of the best tracks from "Loveless", but it seems odd that "Only Shallow" had been demoted to later in the show when it's a much more dynamic song and works better as a set-opener. A couple of songs from earlier shows have now been abandoned: "Cigarette In Your Bed" (which they messed up at the ICA and had to start again later in the set) and "Honey Power" (which sounds strangely out of tune on the ICA bootleg) were nowhere to be seen, so I guess Kevin's notorious sense of quality control had kicked in. The biggest surprise was the inclusion of "Lose My Breath", one of the band's more delicate songs. This provided a nice contrast to the rest of the set, but with my ears ringing from the previous noisy offerings, I didn't fully appreciate Bilinda's beautiful vocal delivery.
There have been countless rumours circulating about what Kevin Shields has been doing since 1992, many of them concerning how many albums' worth of material he has written. However, there have been no new songs played at any of the reunion shows so far, so I think the chances of getting a new MBV album before Shields dies of old age are pretty slim.
The set finished, of course, with the classic "You Made Me Realise", with the central white noise section being drawn out to 20 minutes. This was clearly very trying for some members of the audience, who held their ears or moved to the back of the room. I managed to remain in my prime spot for the full duration, but I may live to regret this if I find that the final traces of my hearing have disappeared within the next few days. There don't seem to be any clips available on YouTube yet, but I have found a video of the finale of the London show, which looks very similar:
I guess this won't be everyone's idea of entertainment, but if I never get to see another gig, I will still be satisfied that I've finally seen "You Made Me Realise" played live (and survived!)