10/26/14 – Royale

Smokey haze billowed from the purple-hued stage, while Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Day” played in the background. It just didn’t seem real.

The last time Slowdive was in Boston was 1994. Most of the crowd at the sold-out Royale looked old enough to have been there in ’94, but few probably were. As Eno’s soundscape faded out and five figures emerged on stage, there was a collective sense of disbelief: For the first time in 20 years, Slowdive was in Boston.

After reuniting earlier this year, the shoegaze quintet has embarked on a North American tour and hinted at new material to come. On the heels of the innumerable indie reunions of 2013 (My Bloody Valentine, Neutral Milk Hotel, Sebadoh, etc.) Slowdive is a little late to the party—just as they were late to the shoegaze scene in the 90’s, unjustly receiving the bulk of the backlash to a genre seen as vapid and technically lacking.

In today’s 90’s-craze, however, Slowdive has gotten more respect than ever for their influence and craft. At capacity on October 26, the Royale proved to be the ideal space for Slowdive’s wall of sound. Two incredibly large stacks of amps flanked the drums, foreshadowing the noise to come. The opening chords of eponymous track “Slowdive” alone were enough to challenge My Bloody Valentine’s claims of being the loudest live band. Drenched in reverb and delay, Neil Halstead and Christian Savil’s guitar-work filled the vast sonic space. And when vocalist and sometimes-guitarist Rachel Goswell added a third guitar on songs like “Catch the Breeze,” the volume soared to greater heights.

Dynamics were just as important as rhythm and melody, especially on songs from the more experimental Pygmalion. Long, repetitive ostinatos like “Avalyn” spun the crowd into a trance. Opting to stand still with eyes no more than half open, audience members did not seem to outwardly acknowledge the sheer significance of the occasion.

But it was clear the significance was known. A Slowdive show is equal parts musical and spiritual, a deeply introspective experience enjoyed in the company of others. The impeccable harmony between Halstead and Goswell’s chanting, reverb-laden vocals aided feelings of transcendence.

Only occasionally did Halstead’s vocals overpower Goswell’s spider-web thin whisper or did Simon Scott’s drums lag behind—minor quibbles with a close to flawless performance. (Quite the feat given that Nick Chaplin supposedly “hadn’t picked up bass guitar since the last Pygmalion sessions.”)

On a night of ceaseless high points, the closest thing to a highlight was the rare rendition of “Crazy for You.” Even without the processed, delayed vocals of the studio version, the ethereal song was brought to life with more staccato and driving guitar.

It may be impossible to quench the thirst of fans who have waited 20 years, but Slowdive made up for plenty of lost time. The recent string of 90’s reunions has music fans questioning what’s possible (Fugazi reunion anybody?). In the case of Slowdive, you had to see it to believe it.

Even so, it just didn’t seem real.

We've Missed You: Slowdive
Pros
  • Flawless vocals
  • Quintessential shoegaze guitar
  • The joy of anticipation
Cons
  • When it's been 20 years, no set is long enough
9Shoegaze Stars

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