On Saturday evening, Slowdive returned to the U.S. to play College Street Music Hall in New Haven, CT after a night at the historic Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada. While I am paraphrasing here I think the sentiment will be clear. “I recall crossing the border into the US and being violently awoken by a [drug/explosive] sniffing dog in my face” frontwoman Rachel Goswell began. “But when we crossed into Canada earlier this week and I presented the customs officer with my passport he recited just about our entire wikipedia page back to me.” Despite the mild hyperbole, Goswell’s anecdote doesn’t surprise me in the least. It’s a bit of an embarrassment when even the most proper of Brits aren’t afraid to remind you of the aggressive overcompensation of those in power in this country. Goswell’s point in sharing her story wasn’t to insult the audience. And yet, buried close beneath the surface was indeed a critique of our country’s declining reputation in the world. Aside from Goswell’s comments Neil Halstead noted how quiet the crowd was and so a somber evening it was, and yet still filled with sonic highs.
Slowdive isn’t known for their raucous crowds or blistering guitar solos anyhow so the steady rise and fall of their atmospheric sounds played well to a sizable crowd of shoegaze enthusiasts young and old. As they have done consistently throughout this North American tour, the band took the stage after a minute or so intro of a prerecorded Brian Eno song, “Deep Blue Day”. After a wave of applause from the excited audience the quintet from Reading, England took up their instruments and launched into the ethereal beat driven “Slomo” off of their 2017 eponymous release and their first in over 20 years. The band officially reunited and toured briefly in 2014, but prior to that their last live shows in the US were in the mid-1990’s so there were a lot of happy faces in Elm City where they’d never played before. As Slomo came to a close the band broke into “Slowdive” from their 1991 debut album Just For A Day and the band spanned a gap of 22 years in a matter of 2 songs. The evening continued with hits from the 90’s like “Catch The Breeze,” “Alison,” “Blue Skied an’ Clear,” and “Souvlaki Space Station” as well as new songs including the stand out hit “Sugar For The Pill”. Each track was accompanied by a syncopated lightshow and more nebulous video projection backdrop, with the exception of “Sugar For The Pill” which showed a video animation of a minimalist gel cap pill being separated and pouring out it’s granular contents before spinning and floating about the digital space.
I’ve often read that Halstead was deeply influenced by Pink Floyd, which sonically makes a great deal of sense, but is also reflected in the elaborate Gilmour period lightshow that came to define their live show. While not as elaborate or spectacular as Floyd’s, Slowdive’s light show was well choreographed and dazzled the senses at all the right points in the show.
The band finished with Goswell’s haunting vocals under a single spotlight echoing about the space:
Lean out your window
I heard you singing
In the midnight air
Once the original 2-minute version of the song was complete, Goswell left the stage and the remaining members crafted together another 6 minutes of quintessential shoegaze textures and patterns that rose and fell with all the reverb the sound mixer could muster. The music came to a close as each remaining member filed off stage but a flickering of lights remained.
The encore was short but sweet featuring “Don’t Know Why” from their latest release and then fan favorite “40 Days” from one of the greatest shoegaze albums of all-time, Souvlaki. As with any good short story, play, or film, the band used another Eno song as a framing device for their performance. To be perfectly honest I found the intro and outro to be quite beautiful and perfect selections to open and close the evening. There are few bands who are capable of remaining friends for over 25 years nevermind reunite, tour, and put out an album in 2017 that is as good as if not better than their debut album in 1991. Here’s to the next tour and the next album but let me first say thanks for now.