My Bloody Valentine at the Aragon review

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My Bloody Valentine

The Irish-English band My Bloody Valentine announced Saturday that it is to release a new album this weekend. (Facebook / February 2, 2013)

“Turn my head into sound,” My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields murmured, the calm in the center of a guitar tornado Sunday at the Aragon.

A hundred-plus decibels of sound and static assaulted a few thousand fans, and all that the paying customers received to defend themselves were a pair of lousy earplugs at the door.

It wasn’t a fair fight. The earplugs got their butts kick as the Irish-English quartet, abetted by a keyboardist, spent 100 minutes finding subtle variations within the “deafening-roar” setting on their guitar amplifiers.

In most concerts, the goal is an exchange of energy between band and audience. But My Bloody Valentine has never participated in the rituals of mainstream rock. The four core members – Shields, guitarist Bilinda Butcher, bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm O Ciosoig -- hardly made an attempt to interact, barely moving on stage except for arms thrashing guitar strings and swinging drum sticks. The roar they created was felt as much as heard, as tangible as a tsunami that swept over all in its path. How listeners felt about this likely had a lot to do with their tolerance for extreme volume and sensory overload; strobes flickered, video images danced and swirled, and the band maintained serene, distant expressions as it clobbered everything within earshot.

The audience swung into action once, heads bobbing vigorously in time with the blurry riff at the heart of “Only Shallow.” Otherwise, the crowd reaction suggested a kind of mass hypnosis. Can a sound be both overpowering and lulling at once? The way My Bloody Valentine stacked tones and overtones declared it could be. Guitars no longer sounded like guitars, but impersonated flutes, whale calls, rocket ships, a circus ride. This was not the psychedelic music birthed by West Coast hippies, but it was a mighty powerful hallucinogen all the same.

It is not a band designed for mass acceptance, but its influence has rippled wider across the last 20 years. My Bloody Valentine debuted in the ‘80s, reached its creative apex with the 1991 album, “Loveless,” a harrowing and yet beautiful variant of noise rock, and then fell silent for two decades. The follow-up, “mbv,” was finally released earlier this year.

If “mbv” faced impossible expectations, a handful of tracks from the album performed Sunday hardly sounded like orphans. “New You” draped a melancholy keyboard melody over a bounding bass line. When the instruments briefly fell away, drums stepped forcefully into the vacuum. “Only Tomorrow” featured a rare Shields guitar solo, albeit in his singular style – a series of notes creating a sneaky little melody that teeter-tottered with swooning whammy-bar sustain. And “Wonder 2” turned Shields and Butcher into a choir fighting off obliteration in a sand storm of overdriven guitars.

“Loveless” tracks dominated, with the merry-go-round swoon of “Soon,” the surging drum fills of “When You Sleep,” the ambient “To Here Knows When” – not so much a song as a collage of ghost-like voices. Yet some of the punchiest tracks came from the band’s earlier music, particularly the machine-gun drumming and almost cheery melody of “Nothing Much to Lose” and the deceptively fragile “Cigarette in Your Bed.”

On the closing “You Made Me Realise,” the band turned a brief moment on the 1988 single into a 12-minute ascent over one chord. The crackle of feedback gave way to what sounded like a crushing waterfall as the cymbals splashed. And then, an encore worthy of John Cage: silence.

greg@gregkot.com

My Bloody Valentine set list Sunday at the Aragon:

1 Sometimes

2 I Only Said

3 When You Sleep

4 New You

5 You Never Should

6 Honey Power

7 Cigarette in Your Bed

8 Only Tomorrow 

9 Come in Alone

10 Only Shallow

11 Nothing Much to Lose

12 Who Sees You

13 To Here Knows When

14 Wonder 2

15 Soon

16 Feed Me With Your Kiss

17 You Made Me Realise

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The Grammys 2011