Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My Bloody Valentine Sear Paint Off Walls at El Rey or "A Bunch of Shows, Part II"

Thursday, April 16, 2009, presented me with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see My Bloody Valentine at their secret show at the El Rey. Not having been a music fan back when they first came on the scene, I only knew them as "that band that everyone cites as an influence" on every indie band's myspace page. (Above photo is by David E. Greenwald at the El Rey)

I'd heard the legends about the sonic assault of their live shows, how earplugs are mandatory. That the recent Santa Monica shows had pretty much punctured the eardrums of everyone present. I've listened to the CD's and enjoyed them, but the recorded work in no way prepares you for their live sound.

I'm glad their legend preceeds them, because it saved my hearing. No stranger to loud music, my ears, miraculously, survived the early years of psychedelic rock. Seeing Jefferson Airplane (below) in October 1969 was a sonic assault the likes of which I had never witnessed before. And I loved every minute of it. So much so, I even remember the first song they played was "Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon". And they played "We Can Be Together", "Wooden Ships" and "Volunteers" and that new version of "Somebody To Love" they had introduced that year. I even remember the light show. You see, anyone who says "if you remember the '60's, you didn't live through it" is full of shit.

Anyway, back to the band at hand. The El Rey was sold out and it took quite a while to get in, but once inside we managed to get pretty close and stayed put. It was just by chance that I had taken a friend from work to The Henry Clay People show that Monday at Spaceland. Introducing him to Travis from Web in Front, we learned about this show. My friend went on line the next morning and secured two tickets before they sold out. I'm grateful he gifted me with one of those tickets.

Eventually we were swamped in by the crowd, but they were a very "serious musician" kind of crowd, so the swamping was pleasant. I managed to stay put for three quarters of the show. A jumping troll in front of me finally got me to move. I enjoyed the final portion near the back, elevated slightly so that during the 12 minutes of white noise, I could observe the extreme reactions of the crowd.
photo by David E. Greenwald

When they began playing "You Made Me Realize", I knew this had to be THE song with the extended noise sequence. Well, I'm surprised there's any paint left on the walls of the El Rey Theatre. I mean, this was enough to clear your sinus', but it's really a fascinating exercise.

Some people ran for the exits, but most stayed and either rocked and swayed or stood stock still, absorbing every decibel. Some appeared to go all narcoleptic, and everyone was eventually induced into a semi-trance state where sound becomes visual and visceral. I reached my hand out at one point to grasp the brass railing and it felt liquid in my hand, it was vibrating so hard.

I think my intestines ended up somewhere in my throat, while my stomach fell to the bottom of my feet. I'm surprised I didn't end up genetically altered and leave the building with three legs and one arm.

As for the rest of the program, I'm not familiar enough to know the songs, but they sounded great. Though the vocals were sometimes smothered beneath the heaviosity of the band, the lyrics are not what's important here, just the sound of the droning vocals folded into the fabric of noise.

But complaining about not hearing the lyrics during a My Bloody Valentine show would be like complaining that your feet got wet on the Titanic. What really stood out to me was the energy and dedication the band put into the show. They played like a fresh new band, just out of the gate, enthused and totally engaged in their art. That was as impressive as their massive sound.


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