Kevin Shields is a man of very few words when onstage. Aside from the obligatory “Hi,” and a few “Thanks,” this is one of the only times he addresses us directly. The reason he does so, I believe, is because the applause between each song dies down incredibly quickly. Shields barely has time to change guitars (again) before the clapping ceases, and save for the few rumbling of conversations, silence fills the air.
We’re trapped in the Roy Wilkins Auditorium—excuse me, the “Legendary” Roy Wilkins Auditorium—an outdated, oft-forgotten glorified gymnasium-esq venue in St. Paul. It’s connected to the Xcel Energy Center, and tonight there’s a hockey game. Parking is at a premium, and in the hallway between destinations, Minnesota Wild sports fans and shoegaze aficionados pass one another, giving the occasional odd glance. There’s no re-entry tonight into The Roy. The security team warns every one of that as they half-heartedly pat me down. “If you need to use the ATM, do it now before coming in,” they tell people sternly. There’s also no outside food or drink. “I had an upset stomach early,” I overhear a woman telling someone working security. They’re basically like, “I don’t give a fuck about you or your stomach or your questionable taste in music,” as they instruct her to throw away her Ziploc baggie of crackers.
When talking about the last time My Bloody Valentine did really anything at all, it’s safe to say you can tag it with “it’s been 20 years.” Like, “Oh it’s been over 20 years since Loveless came out,” or, “It’s been over 20 years since they played a show in the Twin Cities.” The absolute classic status and timelessness of Loveless shows in the mix of people at the show—there are those who were old enough to be in the record buying public in 1991. And then there are those that were born in, or in some cases, after, 1991.
“The balcony appears to be curtained off.” This is a text message I get from my friend Emily, who has been at the show since the doors opened. This is disconcerting news to me, as I am wrangling my companion rabbits back into their living area, and am preparing to leave the house. Why is the balcony curtained off? I HAVE A SEATED BALCONY TICKET FOR GOD’S SAKE. WHERE AM I SUPPOSED TO GO? It’s a question I ponder on the drive up to St. Paul.
The “Legendary” Roy Wilkins Auditorium holds around 5,000 people. When this show was announced, after my friend Chris threatend to “drive down to Northfield and cut me if I didn’t go”, I started to question if there were 5,000 shoegaze fans in the Twin Cities area. The answer to that is simple—there isn’t. No one at the venue would tell you that though. As Chris and his friend Joel go to find the bathroom, I speak to a woman keeping watch over a small section of raised “seating” towards the back of the house.
“Hi,” I start. “So, is this the balcony?” I ask her.
“Well, yes and no,” she tells me. “We’re actually out of chairs right now. I’m trying to get some more, but this is really meant more for wheelchair access. If I get some more chairs, and there aren’t a ton of people coming in with wheelchairs, you guys are welcome to sit.”
“I think I paid extra for balcony seating,” Chris says to me as we’re looking around, accessing the situation we find ourselves in. So rather than have a sparse group of people sitting in an nearly empty balcony, anyone who purchased reserved balcony seating, has been now forced down to the floor… To stand?! Fuck.
My Bloody Valentine take the stage at around 8:30, which is what I was expecting, so it’s an early night, which is good, because I am too fucking old to be standing around like this. Sauntering onto the stage, the members of the band take up their instruments—bassist Debbie Googe picks up an electric guitar, and stands in front of the bass drum; drummer Colm O Cisoig puts on an acoustic guitar, standing slightly center stage; co-vocalist, guitarist, and de-facto chanteuse Belinda Butcher takes up behind a keyboard; and then band mastermind Kevin Shields dons another acoustic guitar, and the band slowly launches into “Sometimes,” my favorite song off of their magnum opus Loveless.
The quintessential “shoegaze” band, MBV live up to the expectations of an incredibly disinterested and detached stage presence. Googe, once finally plugging in her bass, is the really the only one who looks like she’s having a good time—during the band’s older, post-punkier numbers, she was wylin’ out on that thing.
It’s early on in the show when I realize that it seems like Butcher and Shields could be somebody’s “cool” parents. Butcher, in all black, wearing a sparkly sweater and shiny pants, could have a PTA meeting to go to, or something, later on. Shields, also in all black, still has the messy, bushy, unkempt hairstyle he had 20+ years ago, except now it’s thinning on top and dude’s just a little paunchy. Like he could have to help with math homework after the show, maybe.
Seeing My Bloody Valentine perform live was an incredibly strange mix of feeling overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the exact same time. The band’s stage show is a blend of unique visuals for each song—often looking like the cover of a Trapper Keeper come to life, accompanied by an intense light show. “Strobe lights will be used in tonight’s performance,” signs warned us on the way into the venue. Standing in front of, like, three dozen guitar amps, Shields almost seemed pissed to be there, playing songs that people paid $50 a ticket to see him play.
Butcher, standing on the opposite side of the stage from him, sheepishly hangs out by her microphone, waiting for when it’s time to sing some ethereal shit no one can understand, or play one of the many sparkly guitars handed to her.
Tearing through a 90 minute set, the band mixes in a few new songs from their third album, m b v, but relies primarily on crowd pleasers from Loveless, and even older, angrier sounding material from the late 1980’s, a lot of which I feel leaves much of the audience scratching their heads. The band’s debut LP, Isn’t Anything, which actually turned 25 the day of the show, is about as far back as I am guessing some more casual listeners have gone.
Placed above the warning signs about the usage of strobe lights were signs expressing concern over the volume of the show, encouraging people to take the earplugs given out by the venue staff. And yes, I think it goes without saying that My Bloody Valentine are loud. I expect the sound mix to be a hot mess because the Roy’s acoustics leave quite a bit to be desired, but the few times I was brave enough to pop an earplug out, they sounded pretty good. Just, you know, really loud. With earplugs in, everything was unfortunately muffled and bassy—there were moments when I could feel all of my organs rumbling inside my body.
Occasionally, the combination of the music, the visuals, and the lighting got to be just too much—a sensory overload, if you will. But that was an odd juxtaposition with the low energy coming from a sizeable chunk of the crowd, and the disaffected anti-presence of Shields.
I guess “high energy” isn’t something I should expect at a shoegaze concert. I stood with my arms crossed and a scowl on my face the whole time—like I do at every concert I’ve ever been to. I was thirsty and couldn’t really be moved to yell “YEAH!” as I usually do, in approval, when things happen at concerts. I was hot as fuck—figuring I could take off my outwear and place it on the chair back I was promised with my balcony seat, I was unfortunately demoted to tied my jacket around my waist (fitting for a 90’s band, I guess) and unraveling my infinity scarf a bit so that it wasn’t as warm around my neck.
With the balcony shut down, I’m guessing that the floor probably holds around 2,000 or so people—My Bloody Valentine probably brought out less than that. Everyone had a decent amount of personal space, except I did get grinded up on slightly by the man in front of me, sporting a backwards Minnesota Twins ball cap, who couldn’t help but shake it as soon as the drums to “Soon” kicked in.
The show ends, predictably with their standard set-closer, “You Made Me Realize.” A brash, post-punk track dating back to 1988, on record, the song itself is under 4 minutes. When performed live, if you are familiar with the band’s Wikipedia page, you’ll have already been informed of the “holocaust section” of the song—where it descends into total dissonance and feedback, eventually creating a sheer wall of intolerable noise. The band holds this…and continues to hold it for a REALLY LONG TIME. St. Paul was treated to probably over five minutes of well-rehearsed cacophony. I looked around at my friends, who were not familiar with this bit, and a look that combined awe and torture covered their faces. The song ends with the band’s final slamming notes, and with that, there’s a quick “thank you” from Shields and Butcher. The house lights start coming back up before the entire band has even made it off stage. My Bloody Valentine don’t do encores.
I have a lot of issues with concert anxiety, and my wife was very encouraging of me going to see MBV–“Aren’t you excited to see your Bloodies?” as she calls them. “Don’t they, like, never tour? You should be really excited!” And even a day after the fact, I’m still grappling with determining if I was, in fact, excited, and if I did, in deed, have a good time. Or in my case, as good of a time as I am capable of having. Given that My Bloody Valentine operate so sporadically and tour so infrequently, it seems that this was a once in a life time opportunity for someone of my age, who is a fan of the band. Did they sound good live? Yeah I think so? The cavernous acoustics of the Roy Wilkins leave a lot to be desired, and the dull muffle caused by my earplugs didn’t help anything though.
The show can I guess be summed by saying it was good, but it was a bizarre mix of “too much and not enough.” There was, like, way too much going on at times with the lighting and the stuff projected behind them—and then the blasé vibe from the crowd I was getting, it just seemed like something was missing.
Kevin Krein is a Minnesota based writer, and has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones since January 2013. For nearly as long, he’s been contributing to Bearded Gentlemen; and for nearly as long, he wrote “The Bearded Life” column for the Southern Minn Scene magazine. Since the summer of 2017, he began contributing “The Column of Disquiet” for The Next Ten Words. His writing has also appeared in The Wagazine, and in River Valley Woman. He is a vegan, a friend to all animals, and a huge jerk toward most people.