Slowdive Rising – A Sparkling Return
Canada-based music junkie, G. William Rex, headed to London and saw the remarkable rebirth of shoegazers, Slowdive:
When bands break up (as most of them eventually do) there are two schools of thought. Some persons assert that the band should never reform. They believe that the essence of what made them special with their original body of work should be preserved, not tainted with the whiff of comeback, especially if it reeks of paying off middle-age debt (sorry Gang of Four.) Others clamour for any additional life for the band, even if it is only in the form of live shows (thank you Stone Roses – so far) or less-than-satisfactory new releases (I can’t believe I plunked for the new Pixies album “Indie Cindy” on Record Store day only to find out it is nothing but a collection of their mostly uninspiring three “new” EPs).
Notwithstanding that mis-step, I am certainly in the latter camp and I will be writing about some artistically successful reformations on somethingyousaid.com in the near future.
But I digress. On a recent visit to London from Canada I was treated to the magnificent return of the now once late, and always great, Slowdive. My presence at this gig was a result of some series of fortuitous events and then some effort and determination.
As many of you know, new music is released in the UK on Mondays (Tuesday is the day in North America). So, as a music junkie visiting London, there I am at Rough Trade East in Shoreditch at 9am on Monday, May 19th for my annual scouring of the store. On arrival, I am greeted by my man Phil. He is a staffer there who knows my tastes (we share many of them) and recommends new artists to me. Last year he put me on to the scintillating Younghusband and their debut album “Dromes.” It made my “best of 2013” list. Base-player Ben works at the store as well. On arrival I asked Phil if Younghusband had released anything new and he indicated in the negative but advised they were warming up Slowdive at the London Underground that very evening! Had I showed up Tuesday, like I would have at a North American record shop, this article would never have been written!
Now I had read (with much pleasure) a few months ago that Slowdive had reformed and that their first show in London had sold out in 90 seconds. I had completely forgotten about the gigs as my wife and I hadn’t even planned this trip yet.
Anyways, with the blessing of my wife, I made my way back to Shoreditch that evening without a ticket but with some determination to see this second performance by the reformed Slowdive. The previous night they were surprise guests at the 10th anniversary of Sonic Cathedral Records. Slowdive were one of several artists to play along with Ulrich Schnauss, Mark Gardener of Ride fame and DJ extraordinaire, Andrew Weatherall.
Thanks to a young man named Ben who sold me an extra ticket at a most reasonable price, I was in. But for hearing a few of the Youngblood songs whilst outside the venue, I missed their performance. Having said that, there should be plenty of time to catch this amazing band in the near future, or after they reform.
The venue was jammed with very excited fans. The atmosphere was electric. For those not familiar with Slowdive, they formed in Reading in 1989 and were together until 1994. Importantly for me, the five original members have all rejoined (no Jerry Dammers-like absences here).
The five members of the band and their respective, significant musical adventures are: Neil Halstead (Mojave 3, solo, Black Hearted Brother), Rachel Goswell (Mojave 3, solo), Nick Chaplin (unknown), Christian Savill (Eternal, Monster Movie), Simon Scott (Televise, Lowgold, The Sight Below).
In their original incarnation, the band released three LPs- Just For A Day (1991), Souvlaki Space Station (1993) and Pygmalion (1994) to what I would describe as moderate popular success and much written criticism. They were initially part of the outstanding list of bands recording for Alan McGee and Creation Records. They are considered (along with My Bloody Valentine and Ride) as one of the core group of bands that gave rise to Shoegaze. Ironically, their last gig was in Toronto, Ontario in 1994 – a few hours from where I reside. I was not in attendance.
What has surprised me is that the level of excitement about this reformation appears to far exceed their earlier reach. Amazingly, their fanbase has clearly grown significantly- much to the band’s surprise. It should be noted that many in the audience weren’t even born (or were mere infants) during the Slowdive years. After the gig I chatted with a couple who ironically said they came over from Canada for the show. They were huge fans yet born just before the band broke up.
Fittingly, as the band was almost on, “Deep Blue Day” by Brian Eno wafted out. It should be noted that Eno produced two songs on Souvlaki Space Station. The band arrived on stage to massive applause and started perfectly with a gut-wrenching performance of – you guessed it, “Slowdive”. This was followed by two of my faves, “Avalyn” and “Catch the Breeze.” The band played a series of songs from all three LPs. Throughout the show they sounded focused and there was no doubt they were thoroughly engaged. After the gig, Neil Halstead advised me they had just started rehearsing the week before. This surprised me as I would have thought they had been rehearsing longer given how tight they sounded.
Other highlights for me included “40 Days” and “Morningrise.”. The show ended with a smoldering version of their Syd Barrett cover “Golden Hair” from Just For a Day.
The encore was perfect – just two songs. This was in keeping with a band picking up where they left off, not a money-grabbing “tribute” performance. The first song was Rutti (from Pygmalion). They had never played this live in their first life. It is not necessarily a song that works well live, but I was pleasantly surprised. It took guts to play and demonstrates the band aren’t going to mail it in. Initially, something went wonky with the tuning on Neil’s guitar before the song started and Rachel glibbly asked if “everything was okay?” like he had lost the ability to play.
The bookend song was the classic “Alison”, perhaps my favourite. Another Eno fadeout and there you have it, 14 songs, a little over an hour. A remarkable evening shared by a lucky group, including Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, who I spotted after the gig.
Halstead tells me they are planning to record a new Slowdive album. They have a lengthy schedule of festival dates lined up across the globe in the next few months. They are hopeful this income will provide the seed money for studio time and the like. They are also considering Kickstarter. I have nothing against Kickstarter but given the enthusiasm surrounding this Slowdive rebirth, I don’t think they will need to go that route.
For now, I am content with my serendipitous fortune at being able to attend this significant gig. Here is the complete tracklisting for the completists:
1. Slowdive // 2. Avalyn // 3. Catch The Breeze // 4. Crazy For You // 5. Machine Gun // 6. 40 Days // 7. Blue Skied an’ Clear // 8. Souvlaki Space Station // 9. When The Sun Hits // 10. Morningrise // 11. She Calls // 12 Golden Hair // 13. Rutti // 14. Alison
Keep your heads down now punters!
Words and live pictures by G. William Rex.