The first thing anyone associates with a My Bloody Valentine gig is deafening loudness.  The band has a reputation for turning up the volume to eleven, pushing even Spinal Tap’s standards of tinnitus-inducing noise.  Urban legend and other reviews of MBV gigs are a testament to the perception that seeing the band live is akin to standing underneath the rocket engines at Cape Canaveral during blastoff.  Perhaps MBV has turned the volume down a notch since their 2008 tour, when some of these stories take place.  They were certainly loud Thursday night—very loud, in fact—but perhaps due partly to the House of Blues’s expansiveness, the volume wasn’t overwhelming.  A good set of earplugs muffled the sound effectively, and leaving the ear openings partially uncovered cut the edge off the loudness without muting its timbre.

More has been written about the sound of My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 album Loveless than any other indie recording ever: worshipping it or citing it as an influence is as cliché as the image of the hipster music snob itself.  Although it’s hard to imagine in today’s all-possibilities-at-once music world, nothing like Loveless’s layering of melodic effects-laden guitar had ever been heard prior to its release.  When the four band members walked onstage to a capacity crowd Sunday night and jumped into Loveless’s “Sometimes,” it was disconcerting to see that mythical and enormous sound emanating from actual instruments—a couple of guitars, a bass—and actual humans.

Kevin Shields, My Bloody Valentine’s lead guitarist, sometime vocalist, songwriter and resident artistic visionary, drove his production team up the wall with his perfectionism during the legendary Loveless recording sessions.  It took him 22 years to finish the follow-up, this year’s well-reviewed m b v, which rubs shoulders with The Beach Boys’ Smile and Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy as the most anticipated and delayed album in history. Unlike The Beach Boys and GNR, My Bloody Valentine’s original lineup is still intact, and the three-fourths Irish, one-fourth American quartet were in top form Thursday night, slightly greyer than in their classic-era photos but still delightfully recognizable.

Standing in the shadow of his amps, his now-grey hair floating around his face, Shields looked like the mad scientist of guitar that he is, while singer and second guitarist Bilinda Butcher stood solemnly still on the other side of the stage. The rhythm section of bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, meanwhile, thrashed around in the center, as energetic as their band mates were still. All but two of the drum tracks on Loveless were pieced together from looped samples, so Ó Cíosóig, who allegedly was homeless during the recording of that album, didn’t have a chance to show off his chops.  However, he all but stole the show Thursday night as he inserted an irresistible backbeat into the cloud of guitars with his berserk and wonderful drumming.

Much to the credit of their live performance, Shields’ and Butcher’s singing voices both sound exactly like they do on the record.  But because both murmur their vocals with the same hypnotic quietness, there were a few times when the guitars drowned them out, or when the noise’s sheer intensity washed away some of the dynamic subtleties in the music.  While this led to a few disappointing moments, to totally object to the loudness is to reject much of what My Bloody Valentine stood for:  Their beautiful noise almost single-handedly birthed whole genres, particularly shoegaze.  Interestingly, many of their lyrics, indistinct as they are within the swirling noise, are strikingly memorable. Loveless’s “When You Sleep,” for instance, is actually a beautifully written love song.

“When You Sleep,” “Only Shallow,” and a few other Loveless tracks received the most audience appreciation, and provided most of the night’s best moments.  As revered as Loveless is, most of MBV’s other material is fairly obscure, and much of their early work is hard to track down, even in the digital age.  Shields and company played Loveless almost in its entirety, interspersed with tracks from this year’s m b v and pre-Loveless material.

It looks like m b v will not be the band’s last word.  During a pause between songs, an audience member shouted “Hey Kevin, when’s the next EP coming out?”  Shields smiled slightly and then murmured, “Next year.”  So it looks like fans will be able to enjoy another My Bloody Valentine release in 2014.  Not too bad, and much more reasonable than 22 years.

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