Last Night: My Bloody Valentine at the Palladium Ballroom

My Bloody Valentine
Palladium Ballroom
April 22, 2009

Update, 4/27/09: Link to bootleg recording of show and set list after the jump.

Better than: Standing in the exhaust path of a booster rocket, surviving an earthquake, sharing some communal mass hallucination, or any other comparison my exhausted brain could come up with.

Right as the Velvet Underground's "Ocean" faded out from the P.A. would have been the perfect moment for the band to take the stage. "Here come the waves," no shit. Here come sound waves that will feel more like the shock waves of an hour-long 5.1 earthquake. The stage lights darkened, but alas, there would be a few more minutes to wait.

Finally, Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher, Debbie Googe and Colm Ó Cíosóig filed out, smiling and waving coyly.

"One, two," Shields mic-tested, then gave a meek "Hi." Ó Cíosóig clacked his sticks together to count off their opener.

It was as if every particle of energy conserved in their quiet, calm stage presence was channeled through the stacks of amps, stadium-worthy array of speakers and purple strobes as "I Only Said" roared to life in a blast of sensory overload.

It sounded wonderful. Googe stood on Ó Cíosóig's drum riser for much of the night, locked into a tight rhythm section amplified so that it felt like a boxer working a speedbag in your guts. And the guitars, my God. It sounded like there were a thousand of them thanks to the absurd number of amps.

On record, the lush soothing balm of Shields and Butcher's vocals are so sleepily sung that they sometimes feel like an afterthought, even when they're the most beautiful part of a song. Last night, though, other than a few moments when they'd get right up to the mics, their voices were just a rumor. More vocals in the mix would have been nice, but the near-absence didn't ruin the show. MBV is not the kind of band you sing along with. It's a move your body, nod-your-head or just stare-in-awe kind of band.

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"When You Sleep" followed, with the same buried vocals and screaming lead guitar. The pattern was set. This was not music to think about, sing along with or intellectualize. It was to be felt in the body. "(When You Wake) You're Still In A Dream" kept up the jet-plane roar of guitar noise. Four songs in, Shields switched to an acoustic guitar, providing something of a break with Isn't Anything's "Cigarette In Your Bed."

But the relief was short-lived. Throughout the show, long stretches were just a squall of noise. Certain songs seemed to energize different sections of the crowd, but Loveless closer "Soon" was undoubtedly the crowd favorite with its flute-like lead guitar. That is, until "You Made Me Realise," which many fans knew would be the apocalyptic closer.

Even without the legendary volume the band would reach, the song is a phenomenal jolt of energy. But as they hit that chord that began the "holocaust section," you could almost see the air scramble. The volume became oppressive, yet the temptation to remove the earplugs proved too much. Unhampered by foam plugs, the noise was like looking into the sun--if the sun shrieked and hissed like a legion of ferocious demons directly into your head as your body quivered, overloaded and disoriented from the sonic pummeling and throbbing strobes.

Then, just as suddenly as the noise began, they kicked back into the verse and finished it up. My watch told me the single-chord meltdown was 14 minutes, but I had lost all sense of time. It could have been one minute or one hour for all I knew.

There was no encore, of course. How could they top that?

The show wasn't crowded at all. I heard 1500 tickets were sold, nowhere near the joint's 3400 capacity. As much as I'd have liked the Dallas stop to be so lucrative that they'd be eager to return, it was nice to have some breathing room, and it was easy to push toward the stage without being a complete dick. Jackassery was almost non-existent. Even the most exuberant whoops were swallowed into the general roar during the songs and never got obnoxious during the very brief, banter-free lulls. I was proud that Dallas made it through the night without a single shout of "Freebird," and just one "More cowbell." That there was no mosh pit was, for me at least, an odd mixture of relief and disappointment.

Still shaky from sonic shell-shock, I had the privilege of going backstage after the show to say hello to the band. There I heard an explanation for the dearth of vocals: Shields and Butcher said the sound built up in front of the mics, buzzing and tingling their noses as they went in close to sing. Shaking their hands and talking with them in person was surreal. All four seemed so reserved and friendly that it seemed impossible they could make so much noise.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias: I love feeling of full-body bass so much that the complaint "There was too much bass" sounds nonsensical. It would be like saying "She's too pretty," "That's too much beer," or "I have too much money." There was so much low-frequency sound that, after the show, it felt like I'd been sitting in a vibrating massage chair.

By The Way: Said one bartender: "They doubled our P.A. That's enough for the AAC. I'm fucking serious. If I'm wearing earplugs, it's too loud. I didn't wear them for Lamb of God, Static-X, you name it. That's fucking retarded."

Random Note: The smoking ban had one unexpected consequence. I'm so used to cigarette smoke as the primary odor at shows that the strong scent of overripe shoes wafting up from the floor was an olfactory jolt. Fortunately I was able to move away from Mr. Stinky Feet to another spot with a decent sightline, where I caught a whiff of freshly washed hair. Nice shampoo or not, it was a relief when someone sparked up a joint--just because the smoke dulled the smell of humanity.

Update: Preston Jones of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and dfw.com sent this link to a bootleg recording of the show, which also has the set list. Thanks Preston!

1. I Only Said

2. When You Sleep
3. You Never Should
4. When You Wake
5. Cigarette In Your Bed
6. Come In Alone
7. Only Shallow
8. Thorn
9. Nothing Much To Lose
10. To Here Knows When
11. Slow
12. Soon
13. Feed Me With Your Kiss
14. You Made Me Realise

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