Last night, MBV played one of five US tour dates at the Austin Music Hall in Austin, TX. I arrived with my girlfriend around 6 to wait in line for doors at 7, assuming the line would be around the block. However, the show wasn’t sold out and the venue could hold 4,400 people so the line was only about 60 people when we arrived. After an hour of waiting to get in, a quick dash to the merch table (only to be appalled by the $35 t-shirts) and then a long wait for the openers, the first band started up.
I can’t remember the names of the opening acts so don’t ask me what they were, but from rumors in the queue outside and bits and pieces of information from people in the audience, the lead singer of the first band felt that he had some kind of holy spirit in him since and early age and expressed it in his music. I had no idea what to expect from this and was blown away when a skinny hipster type dude walked out with a full on hobo wine-drinkin’ beard and super long hair. My gf said he reminded her of an instructor she had when she worked at a Buddhist summer camp.
Surprisingly, the band was really good. The guitar player pulled off a convincing MBV style of guitar playing while the drummer and bassist keep up with matched intensity. The songs were too long for my taste (7 minutes at the shortest, up to 15 minutes total) and the singer’s rants about Jesus (obligatory lyric: how do you know there’s a hell? Because Jesus ain’t no liar) basically made me tune out early on. If they could drop about 5 minutes off of each song and diversify their lyrics a bit, maybe I’ll give them another listen.
The crowd seemed to dig them better than the second opener, however, who was the lead singer/songwriter for the Lilies. He had a bit of a Teenage Fanclub/Big Star type sound, but you could barely hear his twelve string acoustic and singing over the general chatter of the venue. He needed to be turned up a lot. As a result, most people seemed bored and kept talking shit. He was pretty good about it though, fininshing up his set without getting angry or responding to it, and his songs really were pretty well written. He just didn’t really fit in with the ravenous fans waiting to see MBV.
Finally, when he finished his set, MBV came on. Here is the setlist for the show:
I Only Said
When You Sleep
You Never Should
(When You Wake) You’re Still In A Dream
Cigarette in Your Bed
Come In Alone
Nothing Much To Lose
To Here Knows When
Blown A Wish
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realize (with obligatory 20 minute 13 marshall stack jet engine noise solo)
A few notes about the performance. The oddball musical parts that didn’t come from the guitars were sampled for the show; in other words, both guitar players basically jammed out the rhythm chords for almost every song and let the backing track do the harder sounds. That being said, Colm Ó Cíosóig’s drumming was incredibly heavy and awesome. He made simple beats sound complex and full of depth by really making use of the different parts of his drum set (for instance, staying off cymbals in some songs while focusing on the highhat and snare). He provided a backbone for the show and his facial expressions brought a higher level of intensity to the performance. Bilinda Butcher’s beautiful, reserved guitar playing and singing fit the sound of the records perfectly, although it was difficult to hear any vocals from near the front-center of the venue. Both Bilinda and Kevin Shields played mainly a series of Fender Jazzmasters with a few oddballs thrown in, such as Bilinda’s Chavel Surfcaster. Shields strummed his guitar using his Jazzmaster’s whammy bar on every strum, giving the chords that wavering, shimmering sound that gives MBV songs their distinctive sound. Bassist Debbie Googe also put on a great performance, mainly standing in front of the drums and looking awesome while adding a lot of intensity to the performance. She and Colm looked a lot more into it than Kevin or Bilinda, who both looked nervous and at times uncomfortable.
Now let’s talk about the actual show. The band has set up about 15 giant strobe lights, that went off in Loveless pink and every other possible color all throughout the performance. The light was completely blinding and gave the show the same kind of effect of MBV videos; namely, that blurry, hard to see effect, bathing the band in light but at the same time making them harder to see. The visualizations on the back of the board weren’t very interesting and only showed up for a few songs. For the most part, the heavier songs were more interesting to watch, as a lot of the impact of the slower songs was lost on poorly amplified vocals and a loss of the heavy, earth-shattering wall of noise that you get on MBV albums. Without it, a few of these songs fell flat.
The show ended with “You Made Me Realize,” MBV’s famous last song with a twenty minute noise solo (if you can call it that). Basically, somewhere in the middle of the song, Kevin Shields turns on all 13 Marshall stacks he has behind him (and several other amps) and suddenly all you could hear was earth-shattering distortion. I remember looking straight at the drummer and having no conception of what he was playing in the stream of sound I could hear. Everyone was playing their instruments but the overall effect was like standing right in front of a jet engine when its going full steam; utterly mind blowing. At one point I felt my chest and it was vibrating so hard that I had troubling distinguishing my heartbeat in the midst of the chaotic noise.
People stayed around waiting for an encore but Austin Music Hall promptly turned on the lights and shooed us all away. I’d heard not so great things about AMH in the past and they were at least partially true (poor sound, not a fun venue) but really, MBV could have rocked any arena. This was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time and I highly recommend checking them out if you haven’t.