Then-current album: Going Blank Again
Opening act: Slowdive
Back of ticket ad: KLSX, still trying. Again.
I was actually up near the Palace — well, the Avalon now — the other week, and was amused to see that the nightclub nearby that burned down a while back has become just a parking lot. Somehow it seems fitting.
This show, meanwhile, which was actually one where it was all about the opening act — finally.
Not to undersell Ride, of course, and more on them in a bit. But at the same time, I’d already seen Ride the previous year, so they were a known quantity for myself and most of those who I went with, who had also seen them then. And we’d all gotten Going Blank Again by that time and knew the B-sides for the singles and so forth, so again, it wasn’t like we weren’t huge fans already.
But Slowdive was opening and THAT was a tale long in the telling.
Of course, it’s a tale whose importance depends on what else is happening in your life, and as noted in the last entry in the series there were lots of other things that could take up time for thought then, and did. Nonetheless, in a time where a bunch of us had been mainlining everything that had been lumped together, however haphazardly, under the shoegaze rubric, we had eagerly been awaiting a chance to see each act as we could and by that time we had seen most of them. My Bloody Valentine, of course. Ride, as noted. Lush, several times at this point. Swervedriver, similarly. Chapterhouse had swung through too. You’ll find all the entries on them earlier in this series.
And then…Slowdive. Where the HECK were Slowdive.
From a distance, it’s a little clearer — all too clear, in a way. If you read Dave Cavanagh’s book on the Creation label, My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For the Prize, you’ll get the story of how an enthusiastic fellow at the rather jury-rigged SBK label set up via EMI in the US had been looking for some good UK bands to add to the roster. One was Blur, and the other turned out to be Slowdive. Unfortunately, said fellow’s enthusiasm didn’t match with what the label was expecting, and they weren’t necessarily expecting a seemingly cryptic quintet from the middle of England with a propensity for hushed, half-hidden vocals and huge swathes of reverb and feedback.
Not that Slowdive were out to confound, they were just following their own clear muse. I actually came late to that particular party in that the first thing I heard from them was Just for a Day, their full debut, where friends had already been playing the earlier singles to death. I swiftly got those as well, though, and all in all I was a pretty damned happy camper. Still am, even or maybe especially because they turned out to be the most influential shoegaze band in the end. Don’t get me wrong, MBV has the broadest reach of them all but they’re not shoegaze by intent, they just pursued a sound that everyone really wanted to get their own piece of and one thing led to another and here we are (an oversimplification but not by much). And Slowdive weren’t just trying to be MBV, they had their own massive Cure and New Order and related fixes (gee, wonder why I liked them so much…).
A while back, my friend Stripey, a fellow fiend for all of this music, said she had always figured that Slowdive would be the guiding light of the sound in the end because of their perfect balance between accessibility, mystery and a sense of what it could or should be with that kind of approach, something overwhelming but yet beautiful. As with many of her judgments, she was spot on there — but at the time, all I really wanted was just to finally see them at long last. Because what had happened was that first they were supposed to open for their American labelmates Blur at a showcase show the previous fall — however, they had to cancel, so the Supreme Love Gods opened instead. Then they were supposed to play a co-headlining show with another band that I also had rapidly come to adore, Cranes — only that had fallen through instead. So by the time the Ride shows were announced, a bunch of us were feeling a little punch drunk and wondering if we’d ever get to actually see them at all.
Third time was the charm.
I want to assume I went to this show with my fellow gaze freaks Lauren A. and Derek from KLA — that would seem right, not only for who was playing but because I am positive this was the show where on the way over I was reading through an issue of the LA Weekly, saw a musicians wanted ad for a band that clearly was looking to be an American take on gaze sounds, noted this to everyone in the car and should have guessed from the looks that passed between them that, in fact, they were the ones who had placed the ad. (I only figured it out later — par for the course, really.) Whatever exactly happened, all I know is that we were at the Palace, piled out and I found myself in the middle of the floor more or less and then, finally, on stage, Slowdive.
Anticipation was full to overflowing at this point, as indicated, so I don’t think anyone could be blamed if we seemed especially explosive in the introductory cheers — the Palace wasn’t fully packed out but it was a good size crowd already. What I remember of the set — and this would be the first of three times I ended up seeing the band over the next few years, so there’s always the risk of things blending together — is that it matched with a description I’d read of them live, that far from seeming shy, diffident or retiring onstage given what their songs and performances might suggest, they were intensely energetic. It was an energy focused on a slow unfolding of many songs, certainly, but it was nonetheless present, and live was probably just automatically that much more intense — the drumming was suddenly bigger, louder, the guitar parts a huge, monstrous wave, taking the ending of a song like “Catch the Breeze,” where the cascades are overwhelming but still controlled, and then letting them loose. It’s no surprise that among Slowdive’s later impacts were in metal, because as more bands figured out exactly what a lot of the shoegaze groups were actually doing, their eyes lit up.
I also especially remember one song that had no name — it was introduced as a new one and almost felt like Slowdive goes early Siouxsie, with an emphasis on bass and drums and a semi-whispered but intense vocal from Rachel Goswell. I don’t think it turned up on any future release, but then again you hear a song once and it’s not always going to fully stick in the brain. It’s enough to say that it was a nicely unexpected turn on what, on balance, had been a wonderful show well worth the wait.
And then it was Ride’s turn, fully set as conquering heroes. It was their high water mark in the US when it came to venues and performances, perhaps perfectly emblematic of what became the cresting of the collective wave. While Going Blank Again was hardly a Nevermind or anything, it had been heavily anticipated on the one hand and a reasonable surprise on the other — their Association harmonies meets feedback overload approach was essentially unchanged but they brought in some new tricks and twists, more overt hints of a sixties pop/rock fetish without replicating it completely, a gentle flirting with keyboards and machine generated beats on the other hand. So all that the band had to do was just go ahead and play it all, or as much as they wanted.
The frenetic energy from the previous year’s show wasn’t entirely here, or rather wasn’t entirely able to be replicated at this point, the Palace just being too big for the Roxy’s relative claustrophobia. It was still a pretty amped up crowd, though, and I remember both Mark and Andy singing as if there was a huge wind blowing in their faces, looking up and out almost as a challenge to it all. Songs don’t completely stick with me here aside from the newest ones, with “Leave Them All Behind” and “Twisterella” perhaps unsurprisingly the standouts due to their use as singles that year. (Actually seeing and hearing Andy deliver the final two lines where on CD they were barely audible was a nice touch.)
A heck of a night all around, lots of cheers, a feeling that it was great to finally see one band and to get charged up once more on the appearance of the other.
Which is why twenty four hours later I did it all over again. But not entirely. But that’s the subject of the next entry.