Wednesday, May 5, 2021

May 5th 2017, Slowdive at the Danforth Music Hall


There are few bands as swoonworthy as Slowdive. At the forefront of the Shoegaze movement, Slowdive made some of the most beautiful music of the nineties, a perfect blend of swirling vocals and shimmering guitars. Over the years they've been the soundtrack to a million dreams, a million lazy days, a million Gregg Araki films, and in my mind they're pretty much perfect.

I'll admit that I was a little late getting to the party when they started out, but my earliest recollection of Slowdive was when they released the Souvlaki album in 1993. There was a haunting beauty to that album, an otherworldly quality that really resonated with me. The combination of beautiful vocals and layered guitars on the album was striking and inspired, and I spent more than a few hours lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, actively listening to that awesome collection of songs. I saw them at Lee's Palace that same year with Catherine Wheel and Slowdive's live set was just as impressive as the album, a spiraling chorus that enthralled and amazed. They were magical that night, sublime, wonderful.

But somewhere between the release of "Souvlaki" and their next album "Pygmalion" in 1995, I lost touch with the band. I'm not really sure what prompted that shift. I don't think it was an active or conscious decision, it may have just been a proximity thing. Around that time I was getting more and more into Ambient stuff, and I guess that new interest moved my attention away from some of the things I had been listening to previously. It happens, right? But there was still a soft spot in my heart for Slowdive, and I would still think fondly of them whenever I was given reason to remember them, mostly in connection with Gregg Araki films (his use of Blue Skied 'n' Clear at the end of "The Doom Generation" is sooooooo moving...). I never stopped liking Slowdive, but I stopped actively liking Slowdive.

Then in 2014 they reformed to do some gigs and my appreciation for them was reborn. They went on the road with a reunion tour that came through Toronto and it was a beautiful reminder for me, almost as if none of the intervening years had happened. They played Alison and Dagger and When the Sun Hits, and of course they played Souvlaki Space Station, and it was all magical and beautiful and it was almost like seeing them back in the 90s again, but this time around I had all of the context of their influence and all those extra years of loving music, not just Slowdive's music but all the music that I listened to in the years in between, and I think in some ways I was in a better place to really understand the full impact of what they were doing as a result. It was a perfect juxtaposition of feelings, and it was enough to reassert my standing as a Slowdive fan so that when they announced a tour in support of their self titled fourth album in 2017, their first new music in twenty years, I was totally ready and excited to be there.

The show was scheduled for May 5th 2017 at the Danforth Music Hall and that was definitely the right choice in terms of venue. The Music Hall is a big beautiful box-y building with huge high ceilings, and the sound kind of travels around and through you during shows. The venue's natural reverb worked perfectly, giving room for the guitars to chime and echo and sound amazing, along with making the vocals ring crisp and clean and perfect. It's important to have a good venue when the sound of a band is so much a definition of what they do, and the Music Hall was pretty much perfect.

Slowdive's set opened with Slomo off the new album, and it was an inspired choice in it's beautiful simplicity. A few strummed chords, a steady drum beat and some delayed notes on the guitar all combined perfectly, ringing around the room and setting the tone for the rest of the evening. And while it may not have been as familiar of a track as other older material, it worked really well as an opening song, entrenching the band in the present while still acknowledging their past.

In keeping with that idea, one of the biggest cheers of the evening came for the album's second single Sugar for the Pill. One audience member even went so far as to call it out as "your best song ever", and with the perspective of a few more years I would agree that it stands with the best of the band's work. Sugar for the Pill was performed beautifully, fully capturing the sound of Slowdive 2017 while still remaining true to the spirit of Slowdive 1993. Great stuff.

But as much as they may have been promoting their new album, it was clear that they were just as excited about celebrating their past work too. Souvlaki Space Station was big and expansive that night, with guitar work that spiraled around the audience, wrapping us up in tendrils of musical awesomeness. Alison was beautiful and wonderful, a performance that tugged at my heartstrings while I did that head to the side nodding dance that I've done so many times before, thinking about how their messed up world still thrilled me. Blue Skied an' Clear made me swoon, and I couldn't help thinking of Amy Blue driving into the distance, forever changed.

It was an emotional experience for me, a glorious concert and a glorious evening, and I was really happy to have had the opportunity to surround myself with their songs again. Most of all it was a night that made me remember that the world really is a better place for having Slowdive in it, and all of the beautiful music that they make. I very much look forward to the day when they're able to hit the road again, and I have another chance to see them, to be part of that blissful noise one more time...

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