I took the above photo - maybe the best I've ever taken, though there's another strong contender at the end of this post - of My Bloody Valentine in concert. It's important to note that this picture greatly overemphasises the transcendence of their stage show.
On March 13, I went to see My Bloody Valentine at the Hammerstein Apollo, a London institution that has hosted countless legendary acts, from My Bloody Valentine all the way down to other ones. My move to London has paid off hugely in that it's finally possible for me to experience stuff like this on a regular basis. I come from New Zealand, where a typical Friday night out is making two cows fight each other in the town hall. Sometimes they don't even fight; they just stand there, and it's very upsetting.
Bilinda Butcher is the first to take the stage at the Apollo, and greets the crowd with a sweetly unassuming "Hi." That is the peak of the band's engagement with the audience. The MBV live show is at once both abrasive and boring, like if getting punched in the face could soothe you to sleep.
Kevin Shields plays like he's wondering how to fill out his timesheet after the show. Butcher is incredibly still throughout, stopping between songs to pin her hair back into place, and looks shyly pleased being there. Colm Ó Cíosóig is interesting in that he basically looks like the Scarecrow, Dr. Jonathan Crane himself, the master of madness. Long songs and whispered lyrics drone over the audience softly, alternating with aggressively loud wall-of-sound blasts drawn out interminably. The audience sways, cheers and scrambles to protect their already plugged ears, but invariably checks Facebook on their phones.
In the crowd around me, one very enthusiastic fellow has thrown himself into ecstasy-fuelled, Barrel of Monkeys-inspired dancing. To my right, two platinum blond girls stare each down and wave their hands in complex patterns in front of the other's face; what I assume is a duelling Stevie Nicks thing. Those girls are repeatedly intruded upon by an older guy who looks like the first thing that comes to mind when you read the phrase "cartoon dirtbag".
Nearby, a skinhead is making out hungrily and at length with his petite girlfriend. When, at one point, he needs a free hand, he hurls a plastic cup half full of beer into the audience. My friend Harry, whom I'm at the show with, hits him lightly on the shoulder and shoots a reproaching glance. The skinhead, his black, doll's eyes raging, sizes Harry up. He has a rod pierced through his ear, so he is clearly some kind of Satanist. After a tense pause, he spits out "Don't you fucking tell me what to do." Over the music, I yell to Harry, "I'VE GOT YOUR BACK." The skinhead turns around again and looks at me like he knows I'm eventually going to write this paragraph. We never did fight him.
Late in the show, it occurred to me that I was seeing the ultimate shoegaze band in concert, but I hadn't gazed at my shoes once. What an oversight!