I was introduced to Slowdive by a close friend on a road trip more than two years ago. Zigzagging through the dry hills of southern California in May, I was intrigued by the group’s mellow psychedelia. My occasional listening and modest fanhood provided a gateway into the shoegaze genre, but my expectations for their live act were inadequate. Witnessing their profound showcase served to reinforce the value of seeing live music.
I was gripped. Slowdive were captivating, entrancing and much more. The British dream-rockers provided a rare example of a time where I preferred the live sound of a group to their recordings. Listening through headphones, my computer or bluetooth speaker failed to compare to experiencing the sound fill up a room.
Slowdive were supported by opening act Cherry Glazerr. The Los Angeles based rockers featured one guitar with a bass, drums and a keyboardist supplying vocal support. Guitarist Clementine Creevy provided leading vocals, rocking. She rocked out with her bangs flopping with her head banging. She made faces to the crowd, occasionally hissing and shrieking. During one tune, she played a scale on guitar and sang a scale simultaneously, taking the theatre for a climb. “Are you a Cherry Glazerr fan?” an audience member asked another at the conclusion of the noise-pop quartet’s performance. “I am now!” was the response. Cherry Glazerr’s fuzzy rock was likeable, and the standing members of the audience bobbed along. But it was Slowdive that owned the night.
Slowdive’s tunes were anchored by Nick Chaplin’s firm basslines. He nailed the melody in “Souvlaki Space Station,” the track I most eagerly anticipated. From my vantage point, drummer Simon Scott was generally obscured from view, cloaked by the lighting and smoke on stage, but he played cleanly. Frontwoman Rachel Goswell provided supplemental handheld percussion in addition to singing, playing guitar and synth, while principle songwriter Neil Halstead led on guitar and vocals and Christian Savill rounded out the group on guitar. After roughly two decades on hiatus, the ensemble on Saturday at the Barrymore Theatre was the same as their early ‘90s lineup.
A projected light show, reminiscent of the iTunes visualizer, descended from a projector anchored to the lofty ceiling of the venue during Slowdive’s set. It intersected with the house’s lighting display, which came from behind the band on stage, and generally prevailed over the projection. The former made me want to fall into the music while the latter was more confrontational, almost as if Slowdive were a force — it felt like they were.
Friends since childhood, Goswell and Halstead’s vocal harmonies were phenomenal. In generally down-tempo music, the two voices entered the complex soundscape in perfect rhythmic tandem to compliment lengthy instrumental passages. Even their breaths were synchronized; the beginning of vocal lines shared by the pair occurred harmoniously, closer to a multi-faceted single sound than two individual voices cooperating.
Akin to the singing, Slowdive’s instrumentation was remarkably deep and full. Halstead’s guitar sent out shiny shoegaze melodies. Haze slowly and continually emanated from the stage, and it felt like it contained Slowdive’s songs. Much like the smoke, it felt like the sonic output of the band was pouring over me. I spent most of the set with my eyes closed, letting my mind drift. For much of the time, I could still see the lighting through my shut lids.
Slowdive’s dynamics were a real strength. For a band that excels at producing tranquil sounds, they were very loud at times. The swells were noticeable and easily anticipated, resulting in somewhat of a catharsis. Between songs, guitars were rotated in and out; I longed for more sound. The crowd was generally statue-esque, with some light headbanging during heavier sequences. I found inadequate room to dance near the front, and relocated to the first row of the seated area to accommodate my swaying. On stage, Goswell had the same idea.
According to Goswell, this was Slowdive’s first ever performance in Madison. They entered to a raucous welcoming. Prior to concluding their set, Slowdive returned to the stage for a three-track encore after a prolonged ovation from their devoted onlookers. Thorough applause followed the encore, with much of the crowd seeming to want more after over an hour of the trance-like rock.