One upside of being “a certain age” is that some of the concerts you went to as a matter of course seem impossibly cool in hindsight, and for me, one of those was My Bloody Valentine on the Loveless tour. I doubt I have to tell anyone who bothered to click on this how amazing the show was, and I almost didn’t go! It was a fairly expensive ticket and I was a flat broke 20-year-old, but a friend with a little flow to spare—in a move that would mark her for sainthood in whatever religion I would be in if I was in one—bought me a ticket, just because she thought it was something I should see. (In kind, I would years later take her to see Kraftwerk in Chicago on her birthday, and I’m not sure that I don’t still owe her.) MBV was exactly everything I wanted in music at the time—a noisy guitar offensive totally outside the dead-to-me hardcore milieu, but otherworldly, pretty, dense, loud, perfect.
A much-discussed feature of their shows at the time—and I understand still, though I haven’t partaken in a reunion show—was the insane noise break (often referred to as “the holocaust”) in the middle of the song “You Made Me Realise.” On the EP of the same title, the song stops cold in the middle and turns into a vortex of white noise. In concert, that sonic hurricane was intensified to painful levels. At peak volume, and with blaring lights aimed at the crowd, MBV stretched that noise break out for 15 caustic, head-melting minutes or longer. Trendy kids who weren’t prepared for such meat-and-potatoes hatenoise (they’d all go on to buy Spooky by Lush and be ultra psyched about it) made for the parking lot with dad’s car keys, but the faithful stuck it out. You couldn’t see anything but those lights. You couldn’t talk to your friends. You just took it. If you were attentive you started to notice all the over- and under-tones and implied rhythms that emerged from the huge, sick, beautiful racket they were making. Nuances asserted themselves in the punitively loud assault of guitar grit and cymbal-wash, and you might have been hallucinating some of them, but that blank wall of sound was rich, complex, and anything but blank. And then, after who even knew how long, without any cue discernable to the audience, on a goddamn dime the band dropped back into the song’s propulsive main riff. It remains to this day one of the most glorious things I’ve ever seen.
The recently released documentary Beautiful Noise by Eric Green and Sarah Ogletree focuses closely on the origins and impact of the scene that MBV galvanized (and amusingly, the press release does a fine job of teasing the film without once ever using the words “shoe” or “gaze”). A recently-released clip from the film features Toni Halliday of Curve, Bobby Gillespie of The Jesus and Mary Chain/Primal Scream, and MBV drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig talking about the “holocaust.” There’s some wonderful rare footage and photography. Billy Corgan also appears. You take the bad with the good.