Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wrong venue for great band (My Bloody Valentine, 9/27/08, Aragon Ballroom, Chicago)

Last night, My Bloody Valentine played its only Midwest gig at the old Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Back when the show was announced and my friend Elizabeth asked me if I wanted a ticket, it was easy to say yes. MBV's Loveless was such a watershed record, how could I pass it up?

But the Aragon should have been a red flag. This venue dates back to the days of battles of the big bands and the WLS Great Barn Dance. It's not well made for amplified music, with its high arcing ceiling and cavernous acoustics. I still remember a review of the Sonic Youth/Public Enemy bill that I saw there years ago -- a pundit noted that in the Aragon, even Public Enemy sounded like Sonic Youth.

So last night, My Bloody Valentine roared out of the gate. There is no doubt they are still a powerful band. But pretty much all of the texture was lost in the roar.

The band plays very loudly. So loud, in fact, that earplugs are handed out before walking into the venue.

The loudness and the awful acoustics didn't serve the music well. I watched the first five songs from the balcony and then went downstairs to watch on the main floor. Not long afterwards, the band launched into "Only Shallow", the classic opening track off of Loveless.

And it hit me as to why this show wasn't hitting on all cylinders for me. So much of the texture of the band was obliterated by the volume. It was up to my memory to fill in the blanks as to what I wanted to hear in this song, but couldn't.

At that point, the show was lost for me. It's not that a live performance has to replicate a record perfectly. It's that a live performance should enhance the qualities that make a band special. I felt that MBV came off as an adequate power rock band. It's the hazy psychedelia overlaying the power that makes them special. Any haze at the Aragon was due to pot smoking, not the band, this past Saturday night.

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