Back in the day, way back in March 1992 I could have gone to see My Bloody Valentine play at Whitley Bay Ice Rink on the Rollercoaster tour, where they were supporting Jesus & Mary Chain along with Dinosaur Jr and with Blur opening. But at the time I wasn’t that into any of the bands on the bill and from memory I wasn’t even that tempted to go as it was quite expensive; if I remember rightly it was a whole £12.50. This was at the time when I was seeing stuff like Pearl Jam for £4, Smashing Pumpkins for £3.50, Tori Amos for £4.50 and even Nirvana for £6, so to pay out that much for 4 bands that I wasn’t massively into would have been fairly excessive. Plus Whitley Bay Ice Rink wasn’t the best place to see a gig as although they covered the rink it was still really cold underfoot. I did see a few things there; Iron Maiden (Anthrax supporting), Metallica, Alice Cooper, David Lee Roth and Sting. The Sting gig was the day that Freddie Mercury died and it was a sit down gig so you couldn’t even keep warm by moving around a bit. At the end I did get Sting’s set list and can remember being really disappointed that it wasn’t hand written. Good times. In retrospect I have regretted not going to see the Rollercoaster tour, although I often wonder how my hearing would be now if I had have gone, and over the last few years have finally gotten around to seeing Dinosuar Jr (who weren’t as loud as everyone had led me to believe) and Jesus & Mary Chain (who I did really enjoy finally seeing). But until now My Bloody Valentine had been missing from the list of bands I’ve seen play live.
As I already wrote in Part 1, instead of playing the Pavilion Stage, the band had chosen to play on each night of the festival on the smaller Centre Stage, with wristbands allocated for each night so that everyone would get to see them. As Lightning Bolt were playing on the Reds Stage at the same time on the Saturday night and there was a ‘TBC’ act for the Sunday night on that stage, everyone was wanting to go and see MBV on the first night.
It was announced a couple of days before the festival started that MBV would play an open sound check show on the Thursday night, the day before the festival started. However, despite charging for this extra show it didn’t end up happening and I think the money was returned (although it was in part for staying an extra night so it might not have been). With the wristband system being used on each night, the room is cleared after the previous band’s set, giving the band an hour to set-up and soundcheck. But when the band walk on the stage, maybe 10 minutes after they were due to start, the first thing that Kevin Shields decides to do is sort out his guitar. With the rest of the band clutching their instruments as they look on in bemusement, Shields spends a good five minutes, if not more, walking between his mic stand and the side of stage mixing desk, at one point even asking for the front of house sound to be turned off so he could fine tune his on stage sound. Eventually he seems happy enough to start playing, with I Only Said from Loveless being the first song (I walked past J Mascis early in the day and he was humming it to himself). However, after the first song, the unhappy Shields continues his discussions with the soundman before the band finally start When You Sleep. And there’s yet more sound discussions before the third song – You Never Should. After all the early between song interludes, the rest of the show passes off without any further major interruptions. There’s no interaction with the crowd, the songs following on one after the other, with 15 songs played, all at extreme volume.
Despite the earlier soundcheck, the sound is still muddy; although the vocals are low in the mix on the band’s recordings, here they’re absolutely buried under a wall of guitar noise, hardly a surprise given that Kevin Shield’s amps take up half the stage.
Although the initial plan had been to see Lightning Bolt on the Saturday night, the queue to see them in Reds is massive and as we’re here for the full duration and seeing them on the Monday of In between Days we decide to try and make the most of My Bloody Valentine playing on three consecutive nights and see if security will let us in, even though we haven’t got the correctly coloured wristbands to see them on the Saturday night. Security either don’t care or aren’t paying enough attention and wave us straight through. Tonight there are none of the sound problems that plagued Kevin Shields so much yesterday, indeed the sound is much better overall. And the band play the same 15 songs in the same order as the night before. As they do again on Sunday, when we again decide to pass up on Lightning Bolt, knowing that we’re seeing them the following day and once again have no problems getting in despite still having a Friday wristband. It’s clear that most people saw them on the Friday night as the room was not as full on the Saturday night and there’s even less people watching them tonight.
Seeing the same band three nights in a row may seem slightly excessive, especially when the play the same songs in the same order. And although the sound gets better over the weekend, the Saturday and Sunday nights just don’t have the same level of excitement as the Friday night did and in retrospect all the problems on the first night just added to the whole experience. In fact the only thing that changes over the three nights is Bilinda’s outfit.
Bilinda on Friday
Bilinda on Saturday
Bilinda on Sunday
But the MBV live experience is all about the section in the evening’s final song, You Made Me Realise, tastefully named ‘The Holocaust’, by the music press “who took exception to the long period of extreme noise” and accused the band of “criminal negligence” (according to the Wikipedia page for Loveless). It’s not just that it’s the loudest thing you will ever hear, it’s the performance piece that it encompasses. Although ear plugs are handed out at the door, people start to stream out of the room when it’s played. And the ear plugs don’t make much difference so there are people with ear plugs in and their fingers in their ears, whilst other take the ear plugs out for a moment to gauge the full effect and quickly put them back in when they can’t take any more. It’s truly astonishing; the highlight of each of the three nights.
The clip below is the best rendition from ATP I could find; if you were there or have seen MBV play before it’ll make perfect sense. If you haven’t it’ll just sound like the worst noise ever.
And for no real reason other than it’s a great song with a great video, here’s the original clip for Soon. More My Bloody Valentine photos from the ATP Nightmare Before Xmas weekend on Flickr.