Then-current album: Loveless
Opening act: Babes in Toyland
Back of ticket ad: uh-huh, like KROQ ever put MBV into regular rotation. Probably Rodney played them here and there and that was it.
Hmm, $12. That’s ALL I had to pay for my sensibilities to be completely reset and my bar for music as overwhelming experience to be permanently raised? A bargain!
Which is one way of saying that a number of people will have heard me talk about MBV before. A few times.
And I’ve already talked about this show in some detail so I’ll be getting to that in a bit — but I might as well set up the context of this show, because I don’t think I’ve talked about that too much.
Now by this time I had to have long met and chatted with folks like Lauren A. and Derek V., both of whom have been comparing notes with me on Facebook as this series has run in order to figure out which shows we had or hadn’t attended together. Wendy F. as well, she had to have been there. Steve M. and Kris C., not entirely sure, they’ll have to remind me. Point being, I knew a lot of people who were dying for this show because it was frickin’ MY BLOODY VALENTINE and I think I was on the phone to Ticketmaster immediately when the show went on sale.
I am pretty sure I did this at my library job up at UCLA too, asked for my fifteen minute break and took it so I could call in. I was actually getting tickets for two shows that had gone on sale around about the same time — and I think the poor guy at the other end of the point couldn’t believe what he was hearing, because the conversation went something like this:
HIM: “And how I can help you?”
ME (knowing where the key priority was): “I need a ticket for My Bloody Valentine at the Roxy!”
HIM: “Okay…” (said with an undercurrent of ‘this band is called what now?’)
*ticket transaction made and bought*
HIM: “Can I help you with anything else?”
ME: “Yes, I need a ticket for Swervedriver at the Whisky.”
HIM: *friendly but baffled laughter* “Swervedriver? That’s the name?”
Really, who could blame the guy. He sounded like he was in his forties or something and given my 39th birthday last week I am reminded that I’ve expressed plenty of ‘the hell?’ sentiments at some of the band names that I’ve learned about in recent years.
Anyway, that Swervedriver show is another story — actually, two stories, but more about that next time. The MBV show was actually supposed to be a Dinosaur Jr. tour with MBV as openers — a logical combination given where MBV drew some initial inspiration from when they fully transmogrified from tweepop to their own thing in the late eighties — but for whatever reason J. Mascis and crew couldn’t make it so it was just MBV plus Babes in Toyland for this part of the tour. Demand was so huge that a second show was added that night and also sold out; I suppose I could have tried for both but I was glad to get into even one of the shows so I wasn’t complaining.
Before I quote from my previously published piece on this show, some further details and memories: I remember the long line in front of the Roxy, and I don’t know where we ended up in it. I know that people wanted to be as close as possible for this one, rightly so. Babes in Toyland put on a good set but I wish I knew their work more than I did at the time, so my fault there. Kat Bjelland was on fire for sure but I think Lori Barbero was my hero of that performance, she was looking like she was having a great time on the drums. (As a side note, Neal Karlen’s book on Babes In Toyland by that name, covering this era of the band’s existence, is one of the best rock bios out there and is also a good book on American culture at the time and place; Barbero is more or less the main figure of the whole thing and ever since reading it I think she sounds like one of the coolest and nicest people around, something since reconfirmed by those who’ve met and known her. So check that out and of course, listen to their music as well!)
Meantime, though I didn’t know it at the time, I met — sort of — one of the two closest friends in my entire life, Mackro, that night. I wouldn’t actually meet him properly until some months later when I went down to UCI and the radio station there, but in comparing memories and shows we discovered that we’d both been at this very show, and when he mentioned something he’d done there I went “I remember you now!” Being no fool, I’d brought earplugs to this show as well as all the other shows I’d seen, but as per usual there were plenty of people without them. As I stood in the crowd, seeing familiar faces all around (including the 12/13 year old shoegaze kid that I kept seeing at such shows, like the Lush/Ride show at the Roxy the previous year I’ve discussed), I noticed one guy practically tossing out cotton balls to people saying “You’re going to need these if you don’t have earplugs! Put these in!” Wise man. And thoughtful as well — Mackro in a nutshell! Here’s to you again, sir.
And the show itself? So I’ll turn now to the piece on Loveless that I wrote for Marooned a few years back [EDIT: sadly, that link no longer acts as a permanent one — I’ll try to see if such a link exists!], as it pretty much says what I recall of the concert. Feel free to read the whole thing via the link, but the section about this particular performance follows. By this time it had been a year and a half since I first heard MBV and experienced the radical split in before/after terms in my musical (and to a very profound degree, personal) life that “Soon” had caused. Something to keep in mind as you read what follows — this was a show I needed to be at unlike just about any other one before it.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album is also a direct link to my favorite concerts of all time.
MBV played twice in L.A. during 1992, on two separate tours. The first time through was originally supposed to be an opening set for Dinosaur Jr., but J Mascis had fallen asleep for ten months, so picking up an opener or two along the way (by the time they made it to L.A. it was Babes in Toyland) MBV soldiered on. Needless to say, I got my ticket within seconds flat of its going on sale. Plans were made, days counted down…all of us who were going wanted our riots in our head really badly, waiting on the moment.
The Roxy is a small place, crowded floor edged by seated areas. Of course, we were all on the crowded floor, and the feeling of the crowd matches the feeling of that album cover-bright, indistinct, overwhelming. When the show was underway, it was one long miasmic cascade backward and forward, a massive chaotic flow and sway. The band hit the monster-ass boogie groove of “Slow” and it was as if we flowed through the stifling air of the club like carp kites in a humid wind.
It was the rhythm section that was the enjoyable surprise that night. Colm O’Coisoig looked appropriately intense, frenetic at his quickest and loudest behind the drums, but Deb Googe…if I ever played bass, I would play it like her. Bouncing with seeming nervousness on one leg, then the other, she was finding the groove of each song even as she played, halfway between nervous restraint and participatory cool. She seemed only to look off sidelong at her bandmates, controlled but aware, just playing the hell out of that thing.
Bilinda Butcher and Mr. Shields himself had the guitars, the microphones, the slurred blend of singing…I don’t recall anyone saying “Hi,” but everyone onstage seemed happy enough to be there in a low key way, while we were cheering our damned fool heads off. I’d say about half of Loveless ended up being played, but I don’t remember all the details now, just snaps of memory: the strobe-paced flicker of the film projected for “Soon,” the look in Bilinda’s eyes as she sang (not staring or insane but something not quite normal either). Then there was “You Made Me Realize.”
It’s not on Loveless, having first emerged as an A-side back in 1988, and it’s almost straightforward post-Hüsker Dü pop-punk with dreamier vocals, though it has one part in the song where everything drops out but an open D chord rapidly played again and again by all the guitars and bass before slamming back into the main arrangement. So when the time came the band, this time including O’Coisoig on frenetic drums, played said open D chord…for fifteen minutes.
I know this because at a certain point I started checking my watch and estimating backwards; the rumors had just started to go around that they did this type of thing at every show as their final song. A few years later when I had the chance to interview Shields — and he turned out to be one of the most chatty, talkative and polite fellers I’ve ever interviewed — he noted:
“When we did that song, it transformed the audience into a different thing altogether. All the people at the front could behave no differently from the people at the back. It put everyone into their own head, because they couldn’t talk to each other either.”
I remember all the swaying seeming to intensify a bit, all of us just crammed into that spot, the heat and the light and the feeling that we were all going to eventually faint at some point, though it never came to that. O’Coisoig’s face looked like he was possessed, a manic grin as he blasted away on the drums, everyone else just bent over their instruments as if wanting to wear them all to bits through repetition. How they signaled to each other that it was going to end I don’t know but all of a sudden they were back in the song, a final verse, and that was it. Crazy.
But of course wonderful.