For years, you could plunder thru any number of used CD bins at your local record store and come across a copy or two of the genre-defining classic release Souvlaki. And for years it seemed that Slowdive, one of the pioneers of the much adored and maligned “shoegaze” movement of the late 80’s and early 90’s, would remain just that: a dust covered memory available for purchase for a few bucks down the block. But thanks in large part to the power of the Internet and social media, along with the ever-changing ebb and flow of relevant sounds within the music industry, the Reading five-piece are back and better than ever, soaking in every second of these moments since the sun hit (sorry, I had to).
Fortunately for those of us who were still learning to walk when Slowdive was enjoying their initial wave of success some 20+ years ago, the once impossible feat of seeing them in a live setting has now become a reality, with a full-fledged reunion, festival appearances over the last few years around the world, and over the last two weeks, their first run of US headlining shows since 1994. For a Carolina boy born and raised in the state, I still had a hard time believing that Slowdive had not only chosen to reunite and tour the states again, but had included a stop at the revered Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina, a literal dream come true. Despite the venue and surrounding areas roots in that world (shout out to Superchunk and Merge Records), I have become very accustomed to many artists skipping over the Carolinas on tours of similar magnitudes. So for that, Slowdive, I extend a sincere thank you!
Upon arrival to the venue, there was a noticeable buzz in the air. Perhaps it was the collective disbelief that most people in attendance were getting to see a band for the first time that they never thought they would. By far the slowest show to sell out on the US run (it did end up selling out about a week beforehand), the intimate feel of the evening was something I couldn’t shake in the weeks leading up to the show, and was apparent from the moment I stepped inside the venue.
The opening act, who also served as direct support, Casket Girls, were just as enthralling and engaging as they were peculiar and intriguing. Fronted by twin sisters Phaedra and Elsa Greene, along with Graveface Records owner Ryan Graveface as the primary instrumentalist and live drummer T.W. Walsh, the Savannah, GA four piece navigated thru their 45 minute set with a controlled theatrical presentation of avant-garde pop. The choreographed movements of the twin sisters, with Ryan donning a very Locust-esque mask halfway thru the set, illustrated the effect that their set had been blurred into an abstract performance with masterful effect. Sonically, it was if you threw Lady Gaga and Lightning Bolt into a blender; equal parts pleasing and unsettling. I found it to be a fantastic opening choice by Slowdive, as Casket Girls are not terribly active thus exposing them to an audience where they would certainly be as well received as just about anywhere, as well as having been long-time friends and supporters of Graveface Records.
Changeover was short and sweet following their set, and the buzz began to build back up as the last few tense moments crept forward before Slowdive took the stage. The house lights dimmed and a collective gasp before thunderous applause shook thru Cat’s Cradle. From the opening ring-out of “Slomo”, the opening track on the brand new self-titled album, heavy blue lights soaked the shoulders of each member and a wave of ripples flowed from the projector screen out onto the attendees. A masterfully crafted set-list, intertwining new songs and classic tracks from all four full length releases, it was easy to get lost in the dream-like state that came over the crowd over the course of the next 90 minutes.
A few particular stand out moments in the first half of the set was the more bass-driven, beefed up version of “Crazy for You”, the iconic track from Slowdive’s last release before their initial break-up Pygmalion, followed by “Star Roving”, the first single that was released from Slowdive in the initial build-up to this US tour. What became most apparent as the set meandered onward was the attention to detail in regards to the lighting and imagery as it was paired with each song, creating a unique atmosphere for each track. Lights were ever-changing in hue and brightness, as was the use of waves slowly bobbing up and down, or the view down into a Kaleidoscope from above as a back-drop. Another stand out moment was right around the mid-way point of the set, when they chose to break out “When the Sun Hits”, which in my humble opinion is the greatest song the genre was ever responsible for. The lyrics, the instrumentation, the soaring & disorienting chorus, everything about this song is what made this sound so heartbreakingly beautiful in its heyday, and why you’ve seen a resurgence in sound with younger bands taking notes so many odd years later.
As the set continued on past the mid-way point, there was never a moment where momentum was lost. The slower, more melancholy songs were always followed by the more rhythm-based and experimental compositions, specifically the transition from the gut-wrenching “Dagger” into the brooding, mid-tempo journey thru space that is “Sugar for the Pill”. If the joy of seeing Slowdive live in the year 2017 wasn’t enough, it was seeing just how well these new songs sounded live, further showcasing that this reunion was the perfect storm; a band re-gaining it’s foothold completely in the landscape of sounds it helped create.
The classic Syd Barrett cover that Slowdive made all their own “Golden Hair” rounded out the set, but as well all knew, the show was not quite over yet. After a few minutes of raucous applause following their initial departure from the stage, Neil, Rachel, Nick, Chrisitan, and Simon all returned with hands held high in appreciation before diving into the reverb-drenched riffs of “Slowdive”. Followed by the mesmerizing new track “No Longer Making Time”, they closed with “40 Days”, another one of the handful of tracks that many would consider a classic of the sound. As the claps went on for seemingly ever, and the house lights began to rise again, it was the moment in which I realized how special of a performance I had just witnessed. There have been many artists and bands in recent years I have gotten to see live once more, or for the first time, that were special for one reason or another. But Slowdive in 2017. This was never meant to happen. But yet, here I was. Standing in a room full of people who had a few years prior probably felt the same way. What a magical ride it must have been for them. Something I and many others surely feel was long overdue.
This performance was more than just a group of friends and musicians playing new songs and old favorites in a city far from home. It seemed like there was more to it, but nothing like exercising demons, or making wrongs right again. Was it the bridging between the Slowdive of old, the 90’s darling with a twinkle in their eye and their hair in their face, and the version that had again staked their claim in the music industry who had so cruelly and abruptly abandoned them twenty years ago. Yet, still there was no vindictive nature to the performance. It just seemed like a band in its total element absolutely crushing it. Every single detail worked together perfectly. Above all, it was fucking ethereal (you were right, Alan). I hope that I get to experience it again soon. Long live Slowdive.
Slowdive – Wednesday May 10th at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC
- Catch the Breeze
- Crazy for You
- Star Roving
- Souvlaki Space Station
- Blue Skied an’ Clear
- When the Sun Hits
- Sugar for the Pill
- She Calls
- Golden Hair (Syd Barrett cover)
- No Longer Making Time
- 40 Days