4.28.2009

It's After the End of the World



Periodically, and without any fair warning, FreeDarko turns into a music blog. Like when the Recluse and myself joined hands in celebration of ancestral favorites Polvo. Or today, roughly 24 hours after I became the last person to stand before My Bloody Valentine's reunion tour. What follows is an exchange between myself and Zac Crain, senior editor at D Magazine and author of the forthcoming Dimebag Darrell bio, Black Tooth Grin

Bethlehem Shoals: You know how everyone talks about the new Terminator movie, or The Dark Knight, as a franchise "reboot?" That's what this show was like for me. And others, I think. One friend just said to me "I feel like the band is entirely different to me now." It's true—I tried to listen to Loveless afterward to figure out the setlist, and there was zero familiarity with the music on my part. And this is a record I've listened to thousands of times. I also believe, or want to believe, that the MBVocaust was especially deadly. The sound crew were going nuts, especially some bald guy who appeared to be in charge. They were all taping it, and these dudes had been on the road with them through the whole tour (last date was tonight). I won't go into any great detail over what parts of my body were affected and how, or how satisfying it was to watch "fans" around us who wouldn't shut up before leave after five minutes. Like motherfuckers, what did you think you were getting into? Don't you know shit about their live show?

Zac Crain: Someone offered me what he termed "the best mushrooms ever" pre-show, and I wisely declined. Because I think it might have ended up looking like the opening of the ark scene from Raiders. And I can't imagine playing that shit while intoxicated in any way. I also like the fact that, of a few thousand, maybe a handful of people had seen them before, and maybe one of those people saw them back in the day. So it was totally different than seeing, say, the Pixies, where everyone had a memory to stack it up against, or you really felt you were getting less than you might have back in the day. Totally fresh. I think reboot more or less nails it, because it was new. You weren't seeing the old band, or the the band on the record, but you weren't getting a rehash necessarily either.

BS: A friend of mine feels that Loveless once and for all destroyed the possibility of album-live performance correlation. I'd take it even further—that album's vastly human, but who ever thinks it was made by people with bodies? Even the erotics of them are soft-focus: sleeping, dreaming, bathing in sound without any punk-like penetration. Or emotions that go past the womb or certain altered states. It's like ghosts' wet dreams. Live, though, they're the polar opposite: Rock performance at its most raw and elemental. The ballad-ic songs barely existed in that context (at all, or when they were played). Then the onslaught at the end, which was like stripping their live ethos down to the bare essence. And look what you get. So basically, they're the end of rock on two different extremes of the spectrum.

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ZC: I listened to Loveless the next day, and it's sort of like a tape loop of the echo of the show in my head as I was driving home, but not as pejorative as that probably sounds. But, yeah, it's not the same. It's like the difference between a jet stream and an actual jet. The MBVocaust, to me, is sort of the combine harvester of rock shows, separating the people who were there for the music and the people who were there just to be there. I was about maybe 30 feet back. People were streaming past me to leave, but just as many were streaming past me to get closer. I enjoyed that. I can't, even in my mind, completely recreate what it felt/sounded like, but I did notice when I was leaving that I felt it physically way more than anything I can remember.

BS: To me, it wasn't a question of there for the music vs. there for the event, but more "there to hear Loveless really fucking loud" vs. "people who have really spent time with this music."

ZC: Weird thing for me is I grew up in intensely small town Texas. So I had no idea about them until they were well and truly dead, or it seemed so. And then there was so much catching up to do with other stuff, I really didn't listen to MBV until really really late. And then that's all I listened to, for a time. So this wasn't really ancient to me. It was more like a band that hadn't toured in like, maybe, six or seven years. (I kind of did everything backwards or mixed up or something: hip-hop was my high school punk rock, then punk rock was my punk rock, then Britpop, then nothing but Stax/Volt, and somewhere in that game of Twister I spun "left hand, MBV.") So last Wednesday I expected to be monumental, then I was worried it wouldn't be, then it was way more than I thought it would be originally.

BS: One thing I thought halfway through is "wait, what exactly makes for an MBV 'fan'?" There's so little music. Like three CD-R's of rarities. And I don't think your experience with them (which sounds a lot like mine) is uncommon, or somehow lesser than . . . that one guy who saw them in 1991? If anything, there's a way in which you can listen to them as a totally dated band; getting into them later, when they've taken on legendary status, and realizing how easy/essential it is to do so, emphasizes just how colossal they are. Like, who says "you weren't listening to Coltrane in 1965!" God doesn't belong to anyone in particular, does he? Or some people more than others?

ZC: That's a good point. There's really not as much to grab onto, musically, as with other bands that have that stature, though I guess someone like the Stone Roses would have a similar situation should they ever get back together. It's funny looking back -- because that's mostly what I have to do with the bands I really like -- and they 1) weren't together as long as you think and 2) didn't record as much either. The deal with MBV is that part of what they did has been so bastardized -- by bands, and by critics describing those bands -- that until they started playing again, it was less a band than an idea, but an idea no one really remembered anymore, or remembered really imprecisely. Sort of like a scene from a movie you talk about with your friends all the time but never actually watch, and so, the dialogue gets botched, and then screwed up even more, and on and on. When you actually watch the movie, the scene is as great as you remembered, but not anything at all how you remembered it, if that makes any sense.

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BS: I would almost say that the "I saw them in 1991" dudes become part of that hazy past. So someone says that to your face and they automatically start to dissipate a little. They become part of the legend: "those fans that heard the sound." Weird that the sheer physicality of their past live shows had become as elusive, as much of an idea, as "Loveless" was the day it was released. As opposed to, say, the time I went to Sonic Youth in 1996 and some middle-aged black dude with a Confusion is Sex tee tucked into acid-washed jeans just kept glaring at everyone.

ZC: Elusive is a good word because I can't remember the last time I went to a show where so many people didn't know exactly what to expect. At best you have someone who went to a show in another city, but they don't give you much. The sense beforehand was more than nervousness, less than fear. "Can I handle this?" was part of it, but more than that it was "How do I want to handle this? What are they/am I capable of?" Can't think of anyone else that can do that. There are bands that are sort of wildly different from record to stage and back, but even those bands, like I suppose people would consider Radiohead to be one, are wildly different in kind of predictable ways. I think MBV is permanently other. It's whatever you want it to be, but it is also none of those things exactly, and probably never will be.

BS: This goes back, as do all things in life, to the MBVocaust. If some noise band had just come out swinging with that, I would've left. But to have that as the culmination of a set that contained so many emotions, and contrasts, and history, made it well-earned. Wait, that's such a dispassionate way of looking at it. It was both laying all that to waste and boiling it down to its essence. Like the world ending so it could start over again. I really have no idea how something so stupid and obvious could be so profound. Actually, I do: If a band of unparalleled artistic excellence did it after a great set that came after almost twenty years of build-up. Catharsis shouldn't be complicated, just the circumstances surrounding it.

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As a bonus, here's David Wingo's "Macrophenomenal Anthem," which only really began to take shape when MBV-mania swept New York last fall.

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19 Comments:

At 4/28/2009 7:54 PM, Blogger peb said...

I saw them in 1991. (No really, I did.) And before I start to dissipate, I also saw Polvo about 20 times back in the day. Do I win some sort of FD music appreciation award?

 
At 4/28/2009 8:13 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Would that put you at the legendary Memorial Hall show, then?

As for the question, only if you also saw the Arkestra in 1970 and (for Zac) Pantera in Dallas.

 
At 4/28/2009 8:28 PM, Blogger peb said...

That is correct although now that I think about it, it was probably in 1992. Superchunk opened and Dinosaur Jr. closed which just seems wrong now.

Negatory on the other two so I guess I'll just have to settle for honorable mention.

 
At 4/28/2009 8:35 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I like to pretend that it was the Dinosaur of a few years earlier. That would've been the best show ever!

 
At 4/28/2009 8:56 PM, Blogger peb said...

Can a show be the best ever when it's dominated by one band? In this case, yeah I guess so. I liked Superchunk but I don't remember anything about their performance at that particular show. Dinosaur Jr. had the unfortunate task of cleaning up after our minds had been blown. I always preferred Sebadoh anyway.

According to this, the show was Feb. 26th 1992. Thanks fuzzy memories!

 
At 4/28/2009 10:52 PM, Blogger Louie Bones said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 4/28/2009 11:43 PM, Blogger David said...

how was brightback morning light as the opener?

 
At 4/28/2009 11:57 PM, Blogger David said...

(A different David) I'm another who saw them back in the mists of time, at The Paradiso in Amsterdam in 1991. So I am now officially "part of that hazy past"! An old dude in other words.
Some things didn't change though: the sound crew going nuts, Shields tinkering with his gear to find his tone, the dense physicality of it all (compared to the recordings), and the killing wall of noise to finish.
I've always felt that "Loveless" represented some kind of musical (r)evolutionary dead end. There was nowhere to go after that. Even MBV couldn't follow it, and flared out like some distant supernova, leaving a haunting echo of feedback washing around the dark corners of the musical universe, still there when all the ephemeral stuff faded away.
Somewhat related and from a similar time, though not in the same class, obviously, are Loop (their recently re-issued CDs are pretty pale compared to their shows), and AR Kane (the album 69, and the EPs that preceded it are very good). Just don't put The Stone Roses anywhere near MBV. Good band, but part of the rock/pop continuum.
More recently, the Patti Smith Coral Sea CD is pretty fine too, with Shields providing atmospheres from the more ethereal end of the MBV universe.

 
At 4/29/2009 2:54 AM, Blogger Uncle Vanya said...

So glad to see appreciation for this incredible group.

 
At 4/29/2009 10:57 AM, Blogger pkim said...

great discussion ... reminds me of bob going electric in england punk style. perhaps MBV's new shit is profoundly ahead of its time (live performances, at least). anyway, what about a discussion on pavement?

 
At 4/29/2009 11:53 AM, Blogger Todd said...

Like the world ending so it could start over again. I really have no idea how something so stupid and obvious could be so profound.That's what I was thinking after hearing/reading people's ecstatic reactions. I was all "Ok so why haven't you dorks been listening to Prurient all this time or whatever," but I like your explanation more than my dismissive attitude!

 
At 4/29/2009 12:25 PM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

Fortunately, now that you've been to an MBV show, you won't have to (or be able to) listen to dumb announcers for the rest of the NBA playoffs.

 
At 4/29/2009 1:06 PM, Blogger W2 said...

(I kind of did everything backwards or mixed up or something: hip-hop was my high school punk rock, then punk rock was my punk rock, then Britpop, then nothing but Stax/Volt, and somewhere in that game of Twister I spun "left hand, MBV.")

I like this passage. I have been thinking alot about what are the ten most important albums to me over the course of my musical listening life. I like lists (favorite five left handed NBAers for example).

Regarding the music...I have always been amazed at the pathway/narrative people take/create to arrive at particular artists.

 
At 4/29/2009 1:13 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I cut a part where Zac and I talked more about how weird it is that some people front like they've been into form of music since they were seven. And how it makes you more interested in their love of music when you can see the narrative behind it.

 
At 4/29/2009 1:36 PM, Blogger David said...

(A different David) I'd love to be able to claim that I was at the Paradiso in 91 at age 7, but sadly I was that plus about 20. And it took me a while to "get" MBV in the first place. Based on the intense indie music press hype in the UK I bought the "You Made Me Realise" EP and couldn't get past the lo-fi squalls of noise of the opening title track for quite a while. In fact, it was one of the other, quieter tracks that hooked me, and then drew me to the glorious "Isn't Anything".
Other great Shields moments come courtesy of the "Lost in Translation" soundtrack, of course.
And did those remasters of the two key albums ever get released? It's typical that after years out of the spotlight they show up with a bunch of shows and planned releases and then… nothing.
1991 was a pretty pivotal year for me: quite apart from MBV live it also marked my first encounter with the NBA. It wasn't covered much at all in Europe in those days, but a working trip to the Philippines of all places put me in touch with the play-offs that year, and Jordan's first triumph. Been hooked ever since.

 
At 4/29/2009 2:41 PM, Blogger Gabe said...

Hmm - it's interesting that you compare this to Loveless. This is going to sound needlessly pretentious, but I think these shows really highlight Isn't Anything, the Glider EP, etc. Someone really needs to throw together all of the EPs and release them in a box set so people can understand MBV. The music press has glorified Loveless to the extent that MBV isn't a band, they aren't even an idea - they are an album. It helps that Loveless is an amazing album, but it really reminds me of the equivalent of Abbey Road or something. A project focused in the studio to push the limits of the sound of the whole shoegaze genre.

But I think that by equating MBV to Loveless, you remove them from their history - shoegaze bands were called that because, as everyone knows, they would play these crushingly loud shows and stare at their shows. So you lose that flavor of beautiful pop songs that some guy just decided to turn his amp up to 11 and distort the shit out of it, which was elementary to shoegaze before Loveless and to a lesser extent Slowdive and Loop's contributions.


So I really think that the MBV reboot is really like going back to their roots, or them trying to foment an American revolution in the wake of this tour celebrating the loudest sounds, much like they sprang up from the wake of Dinosaur Jr.

 
At 4/29/2009 4:13 PM, Blogger growfauxfinns said...

@David #1- Brightblack Morning Light was good, but it left you wanting to see them in a more intimate fashion, as opposed to MBV who pretty much need an aircraft hangar at this point.
Their sound was pretty much 75% Rhodes & 25% a drum that sounded like a dumbek (?). You could barely hear Naybob's gtr, but I think that's more a function of how little he feels the need to play it (not an insult). He picked his strings more like a bass player than a guitar player, which to me is a mark of restraint than lack of talent. Having said that, I think he & his vocals got lost in the mix, and I wished they'd have played some stuff from their self-titled album. (which for awhile there was the perfect Spiritualized placebo during the period where J.Spaceman was kinda suckin)

 
At 7/17/2009 12:24 PM, Blogger Kelly said...

Much later but I happened upon this post just now.

I was also at the Memorial Hall MBV show in Chapel Hill that February evening. I've seen many shows over the years from a lot of the all time greats, even rolling back to the mid 70s... And I rank that MBV performance as one of the all-time BEST, easily the Top 5 of any show I've ever seen.

It was near tear inducing in grandeur, literally speaking. I still remember that light ring that orginated from the back of Memorial, enveloping the hall and pulsing out to the back.

And who could forget the sonic splendor of that wall of feedback that drove many of the Chapel Hill brigade out the doors, separating the wheat from the chaff as it extending to near 20 minutes of beauty.

I have to disagree with some of the memories of that show above. Indeed, Superchunk opened with Memorial lights aglow, and they needed some darkness. The performance was a interesting as oatmeal, in my view. This was followed by the post Barlow Dinosaur Jr line-up, also a rather tepid performance, at least compared with that to follow. I dont know how anyone could have thought that Dinosaur Jr closed the show that evening. The lights were still on... If anyone remembers Dinosaur Jr at the Brewery or Cradle in years past, they must have watched this show wishing for days past. It was a performance that seemed phoned in.

I was so blown away by Shields, Butcher and co that within a few minutes had left my seat to make way down front, all the while with tears coming down from the emotion brought by the sound and atmosphere that rained down like poppy mist. It was as far from shoegazer, hands in pockets, stare at the stage, Cradle Posturing as you could find. This was amazing to the highest degree.

I'll never forget that show as long as I live.

- kh

 
At 7/17/2009 4:15 PM, Blogger peb said...

I am absolutely, positively 100% sure that Dinosaur Jr. closed the show. Of this I am sure. Think back to 1991. Dinosaur Jr. had been around for awhile and was one of the country's more popular and established indie bands. MBV wasn't really well known at that point, especially in America. It made sense that Dinosaur Jr. would close, although after the show, you could be forgiven for questioning that order.

 

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