Slowdive brings dreamy rock to Portland
Slowdive at McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom featuring Cherry Glazerr, October 26th
90s English shoegaze group Slowdive are having a sort of renaissance in 2017, perhaps one long overdue. Souvlaki, their second album and magnum opus, arrived in 1993 at the tail end of the shoegaze movement in popular English music, as the tide in the mainstream music press began to turn in favor of the next trend: britpop. The group produced only three albums in their original incarnation and only stuck around until 1995 before dispersing to take up separate projects, but in time their catalog has become emblematic of the shoegaze genre, enjoying the critical acclaim that it deserved upon release. Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, Slowdive has reformed, and their fourth (daringly self-titled) album arrived last May in a world far more accepting of the sound that the band has mastered. M83 and Beach House, two institutions of popular alternative music, take tremendous influence from the shoegaze genre, as do newer groups like Beach Fossils and Cigarettes After Sex that have been hitting their stride within the last year. Slowdive’s newest, however, cements the group as prodigies of the sound, and is one of 2017’s best in addition to being a reassuring comeback album.
Cherry Glazerr relishing the stageThe group played Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on Thursday, October 26th, returning to the venue after an appearance in 2014 on their post-reformation tour. The sold-out night was opened with a set from the LA rock quartet Cherry Glazerr, which gave the concert an energetic kick before the crowd was lulled by Slowdive’s hypnotic and dreamlike textures. Where as the headlining group lived up to the promise of the shoegaze moniker with a stoic, restrained performance, Clementine Creevy, lead vocalist of Cherry Glazerr, displayed a bounty of charisma on stage, cracking wise (“thank you so much, this next one’s by us”) and engaging in some goofy theatrics; moving her hands in the direction of synth player Sasami Ashworth as if she could play her keyboard telekinetically, and ending one song by cackling maniacally into the microphone like a mad scientist over a frenzied instrumental cacophony. With the breezy, playful air put on by Cherry Glazerr during their set, one couldn’t help but wonder if the young group was a little drunk on the surreality of opening for legends.
When Slowdive took the stage, the band made no attempt to make some sort of explosive rock superstar entry, though the excitement crackling in the packed room would have behooved one. Opening the set with Brian Eno track, heard over the speaker system as the band arrived onstage, no one could be mistaken about the group’s ambitions for the night: they were there to cultivate an atmosphere. Following that ambient palate cleanser with “Slomo,” the haunting opener from their new album, Slowdive treated Portland with a remarkably crisp studio sound, with the mix and crucial details like the harmonies of lead vocalists Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead sounding just like they do on the band’s records. Any objections to the unsurprising energy level of the show was countered by incredibly dialed-in performances of classic tracks like “Catch The Breeze” and “Alison,” the latter being the gold standard for pop shoegaze songs. New, more energetic tracks like “Star Roving” and “Don’t Know Why” shined that night, though certain additions to the setlist both old (“Sing,” Brian Eno-produced and adorned with an indelible chorus) and new (“Go Get It,” a deep cut from Slowdive offering some of the most straightforward and satisfying rock catharsis of the band’s career) could have livened up the proceedings even further. A very strong aspect of the night was also the visual setup, which gave the performance any atmospheric flourishes it was missing with dramatic lighting and novel visual loops (one of which did fail, at all times, during the first song of the encore, leaving a blank, blue “no input found” screen which prompted an audible chuckle from some members of the audience.)
For anyone with the opportunity to see Slowdive in the future, they can be assured of a solidly-executed live experience, one that recreates to the T a very specific and delicately cultivated studio sound, which is not quite as easy to come by today as it should be. For a band with a certain legacy status to deliver as strong a show as any younger touring band, without glaringly obvious use of pre-canned sounds and effects, Slowdive is sure to provide satisfied audiences with a wealth of shows to come. Now that they’re getting back into the swing of things with a traditional album-tour-repeat sort of cycle, this reviewer will be very interested to see how future studio work can be leveraged even better in a live setting.