One is often reminded of the failings of one’s memory. I went to see My Bloody Valentine last night in Seattle. I’ve been trying to remember some of the details about the first time I saw them. I know it was in Sheffield, and I know it was in a building at the university. Or maybe it was Sheffield Polytechnic. The venue might’ve been the Octagon. But it might have been a Student’s Union hall of some sort. I think it was 1989, but it may have been 1990. I’m pretty sure, though, that the ticket was a yellow square with black type on it. And I doubt it cost more than a tenner to get in.
Last night, it cost $38.50 plus a we’ve-made-it-up fee. And rather than being a university room, it was in the “[Name of a Bank That's in Receivership] Theater @ [Name of a Telecommunications Company] Field.” It was a big arena in a building between the Seattle Seahawks’ stadium, and the Seattle Mariners’ ballpark. The venue was as un-My Bloody Valentine as one could imagine. We were shepherded along a cordoned off bit of pavement – ladies to the left, men to the right – to be frisked. Then we walked passed the four policemen who were stationed outside the venue the whole night. What!? This is an indie-as-you-like band. It’s not a 50 Cent show. Do we really need a police presence? People in uniforms scan the barcodes on our tickets and we’re in.
Twenty (or nineteen) years ago, me and my mates stood in the front row. Gripping the metal barrier in a sweaty indie t-shirt (not MBV t-shirts, of course; one should never wear the t-shirt of the band you are seeing), I was probably at that moment losing my tinnitus virginity. To carry on the sex/ear condition metaphor, I’m now a total slut. Last night, as we entered the cavernous, bland [Name of a Bank That's in Receivership] Theater, were yellow-jacketed stewards handing out earplugs. I’m thirty-eight now, not nineteen; so I took a pair.
This was the first concert I’ve been to in the United States. And the whole experience felt like what it must’ve been like seeing a Soviet rock band in the eighties. Security everywhere. But not to stop people doing things the State doesn’t want them to do, seemingly to make sure there’s absolutely zero chance that the venue will be sued over anything at all. I stood for a few seconds on a piece of the concrete floor that was bordered by fluorescent yellow tape. A security man came up to me and told me I had to stand one side or the other, but not in the walkway. I shuffled forward four or five inches so my toes were on the tape, and raised a “is this okay?” eyebrow. He nodded.
Beers – Budweiser, Bud Light, some Belgian-style white beer – were eight dollars. Of course, my British driver’s licence isn’t acceptable identification of being over 21-years-old. So we just wander over to another bar where no-one asks to see my ID. The bar area is huge with a handful of tables and chairs, so we wander into the arena bit, which is seperated by an enormous blue curtain. “You can’t take beer inside.” says a yellow jacket. “Why?” “It’s an all ages show, but there’s a beer garden inside if you want to drink in there.”
Now, beer garden. You and I both know what a beer garden looks like, right? What a beer garden doesn’t look like is a holding pen at the back of a concert venue. But that’s how we are supposed to enjoy our beer and the band at the same time. Except, come ten o’clock, when I wander over there to neck another delicious Budweiser, I’m told the beer garden is closed.
I won’t go into the thing about not smoking at venues, cos I know how you non-smokers feel, you can guess how I feel. Simply to say, we have to go out, get our tickets scanned, smoke, come through the whole security frisking line again, passed the coppers, and back into the venue. Fun! Fun! FUN!
So, to the show itself. First up was Brightblack Morning Light. From what I heard, they sounded as though they might make lovely records, but [Name of a Bank That's in Receivership] Theater wasn’t really the place to experience them for the first time. We shuffle forward a bit, assuming that next up would be My Bloody Valentine. A tall dude with an acoustic guitar wanders on stage, says a few words, so we decide to go and smoke again. When we get back, though, he’s finishing up a song, then tells us the next one is called “Returns Every Morning.” He plays the first few chords, and I’m all like, “This is a cover of a Lilys song!” I go on to bore Claire with tales of yore, how the Lilys were FUCKING AWESOME and how I saw them live at the Blue Note in London in 1997. After that, the guy played another Lilys song. OMG! That’s THE GUY FROM THE LILYS! Kurt Something… (Google says Kurt Healey.) Gone is the Sixties mop of hair. He just looks like a regular dude now. A few songs later he plays The Hit Song. It was magnificent to hear those Lilys songs again.
Roadies do their thing for a while, and the mixture of young hipsters and people my age who were old enough to have bought My Bloody Valentine records when they came out, all start to gather in the central part of this furniture warehouse of a venue. A Beach Boys song, a Tinariwen song, something else, then the lights go down, and we’re off on a journey back in time. Every member of the band looks exactly the same, as if they’ve been mothballed in a cupboard and brought out to play a show. The only real difference I could notice was that Kevin Shields’ hair was a bit lighter, possibly greying. The visuals projected behind the band looked the same as they did back then, too: a blurry, out of focus, lo-fi attempt at psychedelia.
The main difference for me was the songs. The last time I saw them was before “Loveless” was released. So it was lovely to hear songs like “Only Shallow,” “I Only Said,” “To Here Knows When,” “Soon,” and “When You Sleep” live. And, being a snobby dick, I was exceedingly happy when they played one of their b-sides (“Slow”). I spent the first couple of songs fairly close to the stage with my ear plugs in. I toyed with them a bit and moved further back, and found that I could do without them when I was near the back of the standing area. It was nice not to have the sound dulled by the ear plugs. They finished, as I’d expected, with “You Made Me Realise,” a song which on the recorded version has a short section of noise. Live, though, it was over fifteen minutes long. It was superb. Just a trouser shuddering, chest-punching, amazingly loud noise, which towards the end gains in pitch, and really does sound like the journalistic cliché of an aeroplane taking off. It was at this point that I found Claire. We’d got separated early on, and about ten minutes into the noise – as some people were giving up and leaving, and the yellow jackets were probably wondering what the hell all these people saw in this Bloody Valentines band – I found her, lying down on the floor looking for all the world like she was asleep. She wasn’t though, she was just in her own little world, enjoying the noise. Impressive considering she’s seemed less than impressed with the couple of plays of their albums she’s heard since we bought the tickets.
The lights went up, we went to the car, drove through a drive-thru McDonalds and ate crappy food on the way home. Is it just me who experiences this, but does the salt on McDonalds fries really sting when it gets underneath the fingernails?