Slowdive live 30/05/2014 @ Primavera Sound, Barcelona
Disclaimer: being Slowdive my favourite band ever, this report is going to be a little biased by all means. And besides going through a mere setlist, I would like to tell you about what brought me to this utterly wonderful concert.
I had many favourite bands ever throughout my musical existence [starting with Oasis back in the late '90ies, for what it's worth], and like everybody I was every time almost sure that things wouldn't have changed much in the close future. Then in 2008, when my interests were shifting from electronic music towards a certain area of rock and metal [ Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Anathema, Katatonia, Edge of Sanity, Arcturus, Death among the others], one of my dearest friend told me to give a listen to a pair of interesting records, one having a fuzzy pink cover, and the other tiny black shapes over a white background.
That evening itself, after the blissful and elightening experience of going through Loveless, I continued with Pygmalion: Rutti was then the first Slowdive track I have ever listened to. It sounded so trippy and psychedelic, yet still lulling and embracing.
They had me.
I immediately started digging for more, and the Web showed me that there were two acts before, so I opened Soulseek for Just for a Day and Souvlaki.
It was the most amazing sequence of songs I've ever heard. I mean songs, charmingly crafted in any aspect, from melody to harmony to arrangement, from the equilibrium of voices and instruments, to the mixture of fuzz and brightness. Songs I could sing to, songs whose lyrics I could remember, songs I could let other people listen to and say them "How beautiful is this, don't you hear?".
I found then that such music, that sounded like anything I've heard before, was called shoegaze, and I explored the whole scene, yes the One that Celebrates Itself: in my wanderings I met My Bloody Valentine [again], Ride, Lush, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, Chapterhouse, Pale Saints, Catherine Wheel, The Boo Radleys, Adorable...if you are into 'gaze you have been through this before, and if you are not well, you should give it a chance.
I didn't know how did those guys look like, I just recognised some female and male voices, and that was it. Then in the following years I read a lot about the story of Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, Christian Savill, Nick Chaplin and Simon Scott, both as singles and as members of the band. I got to know that they became Mojave 3 around 1995 after some members left, and I fell in love with their new outfit, not sure if because it was them or because of the music itself: but in the end the music is and was what it is because of them, so the discussion was pointless.
I knew then about their solo careers, and about how unlucky life turned to some of them [mainly with Rachel].
It was late 2012 then, I just left Rome for Berlin and I was listening mostly post-punk and darkwave [ The Chameleons, The Sound, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees]. In December of the same year I saw Chameleons live, I ended up drinking some beers with them in the backstage, it was my best concert ever that far. The week after, in a small venue called Rosis, Neil was performing an acoustic set of his solo works.
He picked up something from both the Mojave 3 and the Slowdive catalogue, I surprised myself crying a couple of times. We asked him to play Dagger, he kindly declined and moved to Alison and 40 Days. I greeted him afterwards in the room, we had a brief chat and I really felt I was meeting a nice, warm soul right there.
In less than a week, I met my biggest music inspirations [among those who are still alive]. That sealed my decision to stay in Berlin, that was more than a sign.
In the beginning of 2013 I wanted a Slowdive t-shirt so bad, so I ordered one with the Souvlaki picture from an online shop overseas. The parcel never arrived to me, so what I did was to get an hi-res scan of the booklet, then to cut the Slowdive wording, to compose both things in Photoshop and to go to a print shop in Pappelallee, Berlin in order to get it printed out. Five minutes after I had my shirt, it looked very good and I wore it right afterwards.
After more than 20 years, Kevin Shields, Bilinda Butcher and friends did come back with m b v, which meant basically that My Bloody Valentine were back on stage. They scheduled a gig at the Berlin Festival in September of same year, event I decided to take part to just a couple of days before due to the high price tag [at least to me, looking at the lineup]. Nevertheless it was mbv playing 20 minutes from my place come on, and it was amazing. My first thought after the end of the show, when I was moving to Björk's stage was about what a dream would have been, to see Slowdive live once in my life.
But how come?
Less than a month after, I spotted an announcement in the Sonic Cathedral and the Creation Records facebook page: Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell would have performed two acoustic shows at the small Cecil's Sharp House in London, on days 23 and 24 of October. Two minutes after I had my tickets, then I read the news more carefully and it was stated that Rachel would have joined as a guest for some songs only, so no Slowdive gig but still wonderful.
Last time I was in London was in 2009, for the reunion of Godspeed You! Black Emperor: it was my first trip to UK, and I was really amazed by everything. We staid at a youth hostel, and I remember myself getting back to it just for a shower before going out again, with my poor gig buddy silently [then wide openly] swearing at me due to the lack of rest. At that time I was into CDs only, and I came back with tens of them, with Just for a Day among the list, which I bought at Sister Ray Recs - yes the one in Berwick Str., yes the street on What's the Story? Morning Glory cover.
The next trip was sad and unreal to some extents due to private reasons, but the gig nights were immaculate. As per program, Neil played solo stuff, plus Mojave 3's, and at that moment a visibly shy and touched Rachel Goswell showed up. With an almost unhearable voice, she carried Candle Song on. They sang Alison and 40 Days together, and the show was over.
Then it was my turn to be visibly shy and touched, being in the line to talk with Rachel: I was standing before those who at the time I didn't know to be the italian band Be Forest [see you soon guys, I really envy you for that now signed copy of In Mind EP!], then I greeted her and though I usually hate to take pictures of myself, I kindly asked her if we could have one together. A guy took it for us, and so I had my little yet unique memorabilia of such night.
The day after I got a Black Hearted Brother vinyl, latest Neil's sideproject, and outside the venue we talked a bit: about that Berlin gig, about his music, about the chances of a Slowdive reunion. He smiled, having been asked the question countless times throughout those two nights.
My London trip was over, so I spent one week in my hometown, then I flew back to Germany. Early 2014, it was rumoured that something very important for Slowdive fans was about to happen. A mysterious countdown held by the band members starts on Twitter. A reunion followed by a tour and a new album, said the optimists, a best-of reprint said the pessimists.
My jaw dropped to the floor, the so awaited moment turned eventually real.
They announed then a more intimate show scheduled for the 19th of May in London, but even if I tried to get a ticket at 9am sharp of the first selling day, after less than 120 seconds they were all sold out. The bitter taste in my mouth was anyways softened by the certain spanish gig. Time ran fast, many shows were announced across european and asian summer festivals, among them an italian date at Radar Festival, featuring aforementioned Be Forest, Soviet Soviet and Brothers in Law.
I arrived in Barcelona last Wednesday, May the 28th. It was raining cats and dogs, and I was looking at my beautiful set of t-shirts and short trousers; but I had no excuses to complain anymore, I turned 30 less than one week before so I eventually became a man [or at least that is the argument I use to make my mind up to do things, since then]. Day one of the Primavera Festival was enjoyable, with A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Queens of the Stone Age, Shellac and Moderat among the others.
But the best was yet to come.
The day after we arrive right on time in order to see Loop, one of the bands I was the most curious to see live since ages, and they didn't break my expectations. It was half past eight, roughly an hour before the main reason I travelled there, so we ran to the Sony stage and we managed to get a comfortable place in the second row.
Twenty to ten sharp as scheduled, lights went down and a background drape with the recognisable slowdive writing was dropped in the background. An intro by Brian Eno broke the silence, and Slowdive entered the stage.
It was real.
I always thought that Slowdive records sounded good. I listened them with many equipments, I do own original vinyl of Just for a Day and the debut, self-titled EP and I swear they sound warm and deep.
They are not worth a single penny of what I heard that night, trust me.
They kicked in with Slowdive, the beginning of everything, and I got chills - everything was like in the album, but wider, louder, brighter. And played live, if anybody knows what crafting such sounds means.
The guitars, the bass, the drums, they were just there in your face. I mean the drums were really really precise and tight.
Again from our lovely green EP, it was the moment of Avalyn. Borrowing the title of the well known Spiritualized album, ladies and gentlemen, I was really floating in space.
Having myself a soft spot for redheads, Rachel always represented an [artistic] crush for me: gifted with such an ethereal voice, member of my favourite band, of a beauty so far from the muscular and plastic canons of her decade. She was standing there like an angel, with her shiny dress, handing a white guitar and taking all the stage for Catch the Breeze.
Do you know that video from 1993, when they play that song live? I never thought I could have see it with my own eyes.
Suddenly, Neil plays a very known loop: though a bit faster, I recognise it immediately as Crazy for You; how beautiful was it, with Simon sustaining the whole thing with his uptempo rhythm, giving the song a new fresh and deserved state.
It was then the turn of Machine Gun, another interlude of exstasy in one's life. Yes it was heavenly and sweet like it is on the record but real, concrete, touchable.
As their latest show pre-breakup era was in 1994, they had no chance to play any Pygmalion songs: this time they had of course, and they gifted us with Blue Skied an' Clear, which is needless to say it sounded like coming from outer space.
Staying on topic, there was a song written in the first half of the nineties, whose title comes from a greek food and astronaut stuff: it was the first one they mixed in dub style [i.e. moving the faders after having recorded the material], and the result is known by everybody as Souvlaki Space Station. I cannot find a worth amount of words being able to describe what such song sounds live, so I won't even start. Seriously, it might have gone on for hours, and nobody would have dared to make a move to stop it. That was MASSIVE.
I would like then to spend some about what came next. I never liked questions as "which record would you bring with you on a desert island" [like if you had any way to play it there, being picky], or "which is your favourite song". But if the lifes of anybody close would depend on the answer of the latter question, I would answer When the Sun Hits.
And I saw clearly, or at least I wanted to wonder, that Neil was holding Rachel's hand, sustaining her throughout all the song, helping her as a brother would do. That was the emotive peak of an overall hyper emotive concert, I have still goosebumps now after three days.
She calls was the last tribute to the Just for a Day era, achieving another peak of noise and impact, without losing a gram of brilliance; then they left us with Golden Hair, polished and punchier for the live performance. Syd Barrett was pointing his gaze at the stage, from wherever he is now, and he was happy, and we were with him.
Drape off, lights off, hearts still up.
Frankly speaking, I loved the thing that they saved some wonderful songs as Spanish Air, Country Rain, Dagger, Alison [which they had to cut off for unknown reasons], Altogether or 40 Days: of course not because I do not love them, but because the best meals are the ones that yet delicious leave you with a little hunger. And yes, I did really taste superb food there, and with me other 25 thousands people did, at the biggest Slowdive show so far.
I look so forward to everything to come, from the next shows I am going to see to any new record I may listen, from the warmth of all the fans to the respect and attention you all do give us.
Slowdive, I do love you as musicians and people, because you wrote the most outstanding art I've ever stumbled upon in my life, because you never fell down to any compromise in your artistic career, and because you saved so many days of my life I wouldn't have wanted to live, being them too hard, sad or just boring, if it were not for your music.
Sweet thing, I watch you.
P.S. sorry for being so long, tedious and boring; I am waiting at the airport, I have no headphones to shield me from the clever and annoying loud speaker who begs people to go here and there. I went through almost my latest 10 years of life as I wrote this, thank to anybody who dared to arrive till here.
P.P.S. please play Joy live, the world deserves that.