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Concert review: Slowdive’s moody sound enchants Newport crowd

 

The power cut out near the end of the third song of seminal shoegaze act Slowdive’s set at Newport Music Hall Tuesday night, but hardly anyone in the crowd seemed to notice.

The reunited indie-rock band’s otherworldly presentation was such that an abrupt stop to the song “Crazy For You,” off the band’s third — and final, before reuniting in 2014 — album, as well as a sudden cut-off of lights seemed like a plausible part of the act.

The power was quickly restored, and after a four-minute delay, the five-piece’s atmospheric and often spine-tingling set resumed.

Slowdive formed in Reading, Berkshire in 1989 and released three distinctive, memorable studio albums and a handful of EPs before calling it quits after being dropped by its label, Creation, in 1995.

The band reunited in 2014 and released a well-received, self-titled reunion album in May –– more than 22 years after its previous release.

Shoegaze is a sound developed by a number of U.K. bands in the late-80s and early-90s and is known for layers of distorted and processed guitar and keyboard sounds used to create atmosphere and mood as background for gently sung vocals. In addition to Slowdive, artists such as My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver were considered part of the original subgenre and the sound’s influence on modern artists can be heard in the music of Wolf Alice and M83.

For a band I’ve logged many hours listening to, I entered the show unsure if its music would translate well to a live setting. While Slowdive’s most tuneful songs are exactly the type of rock music I enjoy hearing live, it is more atmospheric work — showcased on 1995’s “Pygmalion,” and to a lesser extent, on the new album — seems better suited for listening on the couch while hung over late-morning on a grey winter Sunday.

My expectations were mostly confirmed by the performance.

The band came on stage at exactly 9:17 p.m. and played “Slomo,” the opening track off its latest album. Riding a mid-tempo, drum-and-bass groove, the clean electric guitar sounds of singer-guitarist Neal Halstead and guitarist Christian Savill chimed away, adding color to the groove while Halstead and keyboardist Rachel Goswell — who traded lead vocal duties throughout the night — perfectly harmonized mostly indecipherable lyrics.

Backlit by four freestanding lighting rigs located at the back of the stage, and standing in a fog created by an onstage smoke machine, a mood of abstraction, introspection and mystery was effectively set.

The crowd applauded loudly for the band’s arrival on stage and was dead quiet during its songs while often nodding along to the rhythm. The reverence for Slowdive’s music — most of it likely released long before much of the crowd was old enough be be aware of it — was made apparent.

Slowdive moved through its recorded output, hitting highlights from its back catalog interspersed with five of the eight songs from the new album.  All were performed perfectly as far as my ears could tell, yet the predominance of mood — emphasized by a bottom-heavy mix that under-emphasized guitars, vocals and keyboards — over a straightforward presentation of songs sometimes led to an unexciting sameness in the set.

Nonetheless, the highlights shone bright, particularly in the back stretch.

The band closed its regular set with two career highlights, “When the Sun Hits” and “Alison” — both off its sophomore album “Souvlaki,” from 1993 — followed by a fantastic cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair.”

The “Golden Hair” cover — a studio version of which appears on the 1991 “Holding Our Breath” EP — was the evening’s high point, showcasing the band’s dynamics. It was the only song on which the guitars reached a genuine roar, and interspersed with the projected images of swirling lines and shapes on the backdrop — think of the “visualizations” offered in Windows Media Player — made for a noisy, blissful close before the five band members briefly stepped offstage before returning for a three-song encore.

The encore featured one more new song, “No Longer Making Time” — easily an album highlight — followed by two more songs from “Souvlaki,” finishing with the rocking “40 Days,” a very satisfying end to the performance.

Performing in t-shirts and flannel and moving minimally while performing, Slowdive presented a no-frills look to its act, even as a fairly elaborate — for a mid-size venue such as the Newport, at least — light and projection show added mood and color.

Slowdive’s music is about its sound. It is largely abstract — say, the Jackson Pollock to Bruce Springsteen’s Rembrandt — and is best enjoyed in an appropriately reflective state of mind. The band’s execution of its songs and sound was uniformly excellent Tuesday night, but anyone looking to have his or her body rocked by a powerful performance hopefully showed up early for the opener.

Los Angeles-based four-piece Cherry Glazerr took the stage shortly before 8 p.m. with a blistering set of short, melodic, guitar-based rock songs to start the show.

Frontwoman Clementine Creevy was an exciting sight to behold, managing the band’s sole guitar duties while singing and occasionally shouting in a high, clear voice that demanded respect — largely given — from the audience.

Creevy indulged in every demonstrative front-person move in the rock playbook: exaggerated down-strums, guitar pick held high in the air, spastic dancing and aggressive head-shaking.

After 50-plus years of loud guitar rock being unleashed upon the public, such moves could come off as stale, but Cherry Glazerr’s songs are top-rate, and the band’s fiery, ferocious 50-minute showcase was an exciting contrast to Slowdive’s more mannered — but still excellent — performance.

4 comments

  1. Although I get you are a publicist, I wonder if you were really there. Cherry Glazzers act was rock in it’s immaturity. Good in it’s youthful nature but kinda raw. Slowdive was rock for the grownups. Rock that can be mellow and heavy at the same time. That kind of balance is rare to be found. I saw the cherry glazzer members sidestage front mid act, completely consumed by the beautiful waves of sound brought forth by the headliner as we all were. The younger crowd may not have know catalogue, but I did not see any of them that were not in awe by the end of the show. No it was not a punk rock show, or dubstep light show bubble party. It was however an epic display of swooning guitars, blissful vocals, thick basslines and driving rhythm. As a Twitter follower commented… “THAT is how it’s done.”

    • Agreed… Cherry Glazerr was fun and definitely had energy, but I found myself ready for them to be done a good 15 minutes before they were… talented, but still felt a bit like a novelty act. Slowdive on the other hand could have played for another hour and I would have been absolutely fine with it. While their energy may not have been the kinetic kind generated by spastic gyrations on stage, the room was still FULL of energy… that was an amazing set and precisely what I was hoping I’d get when I bought my tickets to the show over 2 months ago.

  2. Could you provide the entire set-list please? I was caught up in the bliss and didn’t bother to note the set-list. Thanks!

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