Icons of shoegaze Slowdive came to Brooklyn for two nights soon after dropping their first album in 22 years. It’s hard to imagine how bands that haven’t played together in a lifetime can just get the band back together and somehow capture their original magic, but this band has done just that. There has been a rather surprising number of examples of legendary musicians doing just that recently, like Tribe Called Quest and The Jesus and Mary Chain, to name just a few. Slowdive defined that early shoegazing genre of the late 80’s through the early 90’s, and that sound has since evolved to one of the most prolific and influential of music scenes around today. They reunited out of the blue a couple years ago to tour for the first time in well over a decade, and then they recently released one of the most masterfully engineered and angelically harmonic releases of the year thus far, perhaps even the best of their career.
This was only my second time seeing them play since 1992, when I first witnessed their sonic mastery playing alongside band peers Ride, so this show certainly had a lot of anticipation built up over many years for me. In addition, this was only my second time at the new local venue Brooklyn Steel, and my first time covering a show there since this rusty old warehouse turned into a sparkling new Bowery Presents concert spot smack in the middle of the new “it” neighborhood of Brooklyn, just around the corner from where so many small Bushwick DIY spots have recently been closed. Growing into maturity can be both a gift and a curse, but sometimes the right chemical reaction produces that precise mixture that brings back the magic of the old days.
Opening the show was the Philly group Japanese Breakfast, which is the brainchild of guitarist and singer Michelle Zauner. She had some indie rock success with her previous band Little Big League, but as her mother was passing away from cancer, she returned home to Oregon, and soon after turned lo-fi with some old chums and her husband Peter Bradley and was reborn as Japanese Breakfast. It’s clear she at least initially used the effort as a process to get over the pain of her mother’s passing, as so many of her songs weigh heavy with darkly-profound overtones. Still, Michelle proves to be such a bright ray of sunshine in person, she just exudes positive energy through every pore of her beautiful soul. Her music shimmers with a melodic, gentle indie rock feel like that of Camera Obscura, Belle and Sabastian, Tanya Donelly, and maybe even Letters To Cleo with modern twists of Widowspeak, Mercury Girls, and with vocals that land somewhere in the grand expanse between Joni Mitchel and Bjork. As a four-piece band, their sound was fantastic, and they even brought out Landlady’s Adam Schatz to play sax on their new single “Machinist.” Michelle Zauner is a delight to see live, and you should definitely catch this brightly shining star whenever and whenever you have the chance.
Slowdive came out armed with all the beautiful elements that you’d imagine from such an archetypally ethereal band. Wave after wave of reverb- and delay-heavy guitar blasts accompanying their tripped out light show and artsy projections, all helped lift their expansive jams up into the heavens along with the bellows of thick fog that drifted off the stage and into the blissful air. The vocal dynamics between keyboardist Rachel Goswell and guitarist Neil Halstead is still on par with some of my all-time favorite harmonic powerhouses of all time, and they did not disappoint this time around either. As much as I loved the show though, the venue’s sound system felt like it muddied down their complex walls of sound at points, and Neil had some significant guitar tech problems, especially one malfunctioning pedal cutting out, that left him visibly frustrated in some of the latter songs. Still, the whole band carried the show into gorgeously spacey sound zones in which you would forgive anyone for some slightly rougher patches.
Their sound had been known to be pristinely dreamy and yet strangely aggressive, like somewhere between their contemporaries My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. In a bit of an evolution, their sound has cleaned up the shimmer a bit, and now they could be sonic father figures to bands like Blonde Redhead, Diiv, and especially the xx. Yet, their new material blends effortlessly into their old catalogue you might almost miss the switch to classics like “Alison,” “When the Sun Hits,” “Avalyn” “Souvlaki Space Station,” and “Catch the Breeze.” They even brought out a tripped out old cover of “Golden Hair” by Pink Floyd’s first frontman Syd Barrett to bewitch the sold out crowd.
Article: Dean Keim