Village Underground, London | 19 May
For all the bluster and fanfare, it transpired that this wasn’t quite the first Slowdive show in 20 years. The legendary dream pop quintet had actually played the Sonic Cathedral 10th birthday bash around the corner the previous night. In many respects, though, this was only fair. Nathaniel Cramp’s shoegaze label doubtless played no small part in rekindling interest in the so-called scene that celebrates itself. Interest so intense, in fact, that tickets to see Slowdive at tonight’s proper curtain-raiser sold out in literally two minutes.
All of which would have been laughably improbable around the time of the band’s initial split in 1995. Back then, Slowdive’s third and final LP Pygmalion had sunk without trace under the tidal wave of Oasis and Britpop and the British music press had savaged their previous release, Souvlaki. A recent American tour had been a disaster and as a final sucker-punch, they’d been dumped by their label, Creation.
Fast-forward to tonight and rather tellingly, amidst the elated crowd packing the cavernous Village Underground, faces over 30 are scarce. The youthful audience reinforces the idea that Slowdive were lost in time, as though hermetically sealed till theirs had arrived. Judging by the heroes’ welcome roared above Brian Eno’s Deep Blue Day as Slowdive take the stage, it irrefutably has.
The night kicks off with material from their eponymous debut EP before heading through the albums. It’s no surprise that the Souvlaki material works well. Five songs in, bona fide anthem Machine Gun washes over the crowd, followed by the gentle storm of 40 Days. When the Sun Hits soon follows. Beneath the nuanced fuzz, these are beautiful songs and tonight they sound precisely how you would hope, if not expect.
The real surprise is how well their earlier songs stand up. From the swirling coda of Catch the Breeze to Syd Barrett cover Golden Hair, each one has a sense of timeless grandiosity. The other welcome revelation is how powerful the Pygmalion material is live. Crazy for You seems to meander along on record but live, it’s an engrossing experience. There’s the odd slip-up – She Calls gets a bit messy for one – but virtually every track here is vividly gorgeous.
By the time Alison emerges at the end of the encore, two reverential young fans are worshipping the stage between high-fives. Slowdive have emphatically proven they can deliver again live. If they can capture this magic again on record, however, remains to be seen.
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Words: James F. Thompson