At the first of the final two nights of My Bloody Valentine’s 2013 tour at Hammerstein Ballroom – their first NYC-appearance in over 5 years –the Dublin legends delivered everything even a casual fan could ask for. Aside from their agile rhythm section, there was a classically listless performance from Kevin Shields (remember, shoegaze), an excellent setlist pulling from every quarter of their scant output, and of course, the volume. Standing 10 feet or so from the band, I felt my face rattling from the sheer force of their battalion of Marshall stacks.
Opening with “Sometimes,” the classic Loveless slow-burner, and a few other tunes from that album, I was immediately struck with the force they could deliver these tunes decades after their inception. But with “New You,” the first song of the night from 2013’s m b v, the energy of the band and of the momentum in the room turned on a dime. For one, you could actually feel some palpable excitement from the typically lethargic band, as they were very consciously performing recently-released material. Compare that to their 200th performance of “Only Shallow” (although it was nearly twice as fast live as the recorded version).
Watching them play other new songs from m b v felt like a similar sea change. “Wonder 2,” possibly the strangest song in the band’s catalogue, featured the band playing along to the tune’s F-Zero-drum machine, with drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig playing guitar alongside Shields, who e-bowed wild feedback out of his own guitar until the song’s close. “Who Sees You” was easily the highlight of the night, as it provided the summation of Shield’s work in the early-2000s (I hear echoes of “City Girl” from the Lost in Translation OST) with his fixation on Neil Young’s guitar work, allowing him a solo that can rival anything on Rust Never Sleeps (with a buzzsaw guitar tone to match Neil’s). After that number, Shields commented, “I lost my thumbskin.” No surprise, it was a hell of a solo.
But it was the unsettling energy in the room that was the most perfect complement to their performance. There was a false start – Colm let loose his startling drum intro to “Nothing Much to Lose” a bit too early – and the band’s chemistry onstage – barely a few glances at each other in nearly two hours – remains fascinating. Besides the thumbskin thing, Shields said a couple of words the entire night. A man in front of me, clearly on a psychedelic trip of his own, bellowed out to Shields “RIP US TO SHREDS.” Shields said, “OK” and they went straight into their famed live version of “You Made Me Realise.” During the cacophonous mid-section of the song, I watched a grown man put his head in his shirt. Luckily for New York City, My Bloody Valentine granted all of us his wish.