My Bloody Valentine
with The Flowers of Hell and Gemma Hayes
at the Kool Haus
September 25, 2008
By Bryan Hopton
I should preface all of this by informing you, the reader, that this entire evening is a complete blur. With the subways out of commission due to a fallen signal wire, the complete chaos that ensued on the streets of downtown Toronto as a result, and then the borderline-painful noise levels of the actual concert, my mind has seemingly smashed the entire event into a gigantic pile of insanity.
First openers The Flowers of Hell started the evening with a rousing display of post-rock reminiscent of Canada’s own rockestra stalwarts Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The ten-piece band arranged themselves in a line across the front half of the stage and proceeded to alternately soothe and amaze the audience with sweeping pieces of music that often lasted in excess of ten minutes. It was a pleasant surprise when local indie hero Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy / The Arcade Fire) joined them onstage for a piece off their as-of-yet-unreleased (in North America) new album.
Following the Flowers’ remarkable performance, Irish folk songstress Gemma Hayes proceeded with a collection of sparse acoustic numbers, accompanied by a lone musician who helped flesh out the otherwise simple music with shoegaze-affected electric guitar. Where the Flowers were able to hold the audience’s attention with their grandiose mini-orchestrations, Hayes’ music fell mostly on deaf ears (a fitting irony, considering what was to come) as the crowd grew impatient for Kevin Shields and Co. to take the stage.
The anticipation for My Bloody Valentine was more intense than anything I have ever seen at a concert. The crowd would applaud every flicker of action: during the testing for the lighting rig, or whenever the psychedelic projections came on. It seemed like every single event taking place onstage, no matter how minute, pushed the audience closer and closer to an absolute frenzy. Shortly after 10 p.m., after what felt like forever, Shields, Belinda Butcher, Debbie Googe, and Colm Ó Cíosóig shuffled into position amidst a roar of approval from their anxious fanbase. No words were spoken before they tore into “I Only Said.” I can say, hopefully without shame, that I shed a single tear of complete joy the second those first notes (if you wish to call them that) were played. The lights were blinding, the visuals were a stunning accompaniment to the music, and the volume was punishing. This sensory overload would continue to assault the crowd for well over an hour.
While the instrumental pieces of the songs were striking both in volume and in their own distorted beauty, the vocals of Shields and Butcher were almost completely lost in the noise, barely emerging as if uttered by some ghostly presence in the room. After a false start a few songs in, Shields angrily addressed the technical crew, who rushed to replace his mic. He returned calmly, saying “Sorry… I just can’t hear anything up here.” Of course, someone in the audience responded with “NEITHER CAN WE!” What this man likely did not understand was that he was about to experience something like being stuck inside of a tornado during an atom bomb detonation. As “You Made Me Realise” came to its extended blast of guitar noise (four minutes long in its original form), I was borderline giddy. Of course, I was totally unaware that, among fans who have endured it during other stops on the tour, this section of music has become known as “The Holocaust.” People were forced out of the venue as even earplugs failed to keep out the eardrum-obliterating wall of horror. Accounts vary on just how long this brutal assault on the ears lasted at the Kool Haus, but my rough calculation is about a half-hour.
When the crushing brutality ceased and the song finally ended, the band calmly and quietly left the stage amongst the bewildered, enthusiastic cheering of the more-than-satisfied crowd that had remained to tough it out. This was My Bloody Valentine.