It’s 1992, and my younger brother and I find ourselves in the bowels of Glasgow’s SECC, a somewhat sterile mid-sized arena on the banks of the River Clyde. Half-demented on some of Scotland’s finest fortified tonic wine (Buckfast, in case you were wondering), we’re here for Rollercoaster, the hottest indie rock ticket in town: A Lollapalooza-inspired package tour featuring the vaguely disparate line-up of headliners the Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr. and a fresh-faced, but heroically drunk, Blur.
The true object of our affections at Rollercoaster, however, was My Bloody Valentine, those Anglo-Irish noiseniks who, one year on from their unbelievably epic Loveless, are there and pretty much at the top of their game—and their notoriety. In the space of a few short years, they’ve seemingly gone from shambling student union disco favorites to a roving band of half-crazed sonic alchemists hell bent on melting the collective minds of the UK’s impressionable youth. They’re led by the visionary genius of Kevin Shields, a man whose unhinged perfectionism has allegedly bankrupted their record label, Creation, and lead to whispered comparisons to Scott Walker and Brian Wilson in the nation’s music press.
It’s heady stuff, to be sure. The myth was further fueled by the focal point of their live set: a 20-minute section of “You Made Me Realise.” Nicknamed “the Holocaust,” the lengthy foray into oblivion has the band gleefully indulging in a deranged, white light/white heat noise assault on a level last associated with evil Nazi scientists during WWII (with the apparent intention of traumatizing their entire audience and, in some cases, according to legend, causing certain unfortunates to literally shit themselves). In retrospect, you realize that this is something you never really got at the average Slowdive gig.
And, by God, it does not disappoint. Barely five minutes into the performance, people flee screaming for the exits, grown men openly weep and seas of vomit lap by while my brother and I stand half transfixed, half terrified and wholly reduced to the level of gibbering, twitching loons. Frankly, my hearing’s never been quite the same since, but what price beauty, eh?
The sad thing is—or, glory be, was—that there’s been an entire generation of acolytes who never got to experience the pleasure and pain of the full, unhinged MBV live experience. Not long after this tour, Shields and Co. simply seemed to vanish off the face of the earth. Then, after years of rumors of breakdowns, drug abuse and creative paralysis, they shuffled back into the spotlight in 2008 with a series of live dates, causing Britain’s music journalists to spontaneously combust and a collective sense of trembling awe to descend upon the music venues of the world. Then, earlier this year, they finally released m b v, the follow-up to 1991’s Loveless, making legendary procrastinators like the Stone Roses look like rank amateurs in comparison. It was, and is, utterly triumphant. And now the band is back on the road.
It really is as if they’d never been away, and, hallelujah, they’re as warped and delirious and beautiful as ever. Yes, they still perform “the Holocaust,” and yes, it’s as transcendentally magnificent as ever. Although this time around, earplugs are optional. Just don’t say you weren’t warned.
Sat., Nov. 9, 8:30pm. $37. Electric Factory, 421 N. Seventh St. 215.627.1332. electricfactory.info