It hasn’t always been a smooth ride of success for Slowdive. During their heyday, certain music critics didn’t take too kindly to their 1993 debut ‘Souvlaki’, and were dropped by Creation Records a week after the release of ‘Pygmalion.’ Dave Simpson who wrote for Melody Maker even stated that he would “rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to Souvlaki again”. Suffice to say, with the inevitable rise of Britpop dominating the British airwaves, most people assumed that “the scene that celebrates itself” was long dead and buried.
Fast forward to 2014 however and the offers for them to play Primavera, Roskilde Festival and Pitchfork festival are all confirmed, and the vast majority of fans praise their return. With the announcement of a new self titled album set for release this May, the shoegaze pioneers finally come back to intimate venues. The Art School in Glasgow of course, being one of the smallest at a mere capacity of 500.
As the Reading quintet emerge there’s an apparent air of anxiety when setting up as they haven’t played in Scotland since just after the release of ‘Souvlaki’. All fears are quickly dissolved however, as they kick tonight off with ‘Avalyn’ parts 1 and 2 from their very first EP. Suddenly, it feels like no time has passed, and we’re watching the same angsty teenagers with all the passion in the world as they build up haunting ambience.
With ‘Crazy For You’ we’re treated to Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s minimalist yet emotionally uplifting vocal refrains over the dreamy loop riff. Their signature boy-girl harmonics enchant across the room to bring a pretty sense of timeless nostalgia. Goswell’s delivery is particularly stunning on cuts such as ‘Machine Gun’ where you can hear every angelic note rather than being submerged and lost in translation. The incandescent guitar lines are of course enhanced further with the visuals on stage, locking you in and taking you on a journey somewhere outside this plane of existence.
As the audience soaks in and applauds after each song, a few hecklers at the front spouting anything they can to get the band’s attention. While most of them ask for them to play ‘Alison’ (which is as silly as asking Oasis to play ‘Wonderwall’), one punter cries out that he saw Rachel in 1993. Goswell grins but politely responds that she can’t really hear him because she’s got earplugs in. It’s a subtle moment but also heartwarming that the audience is a hearty mix of long time fans and relatively new ones.
While Halstead’s material for his solo albums and Mojave 3 has mostly been acoustic guitar oriented, his return to electric with an abundance of pedals showcasing lush textures on ‘When The Sun Hits’. When Slowdive were relatively new some people used to think they had a hidden keyboard player. They didn’t incorporate that until much later, it was all down to Halstead and co guitarist Christian Savill’s mastery in creating such otherworldly tones with early material.
As Halstead delivers the line “It matters where you are” you can feel the room swimming with Slowdive’s melancholic upheaval until the very last note rings out. With a lot of bands, new material can be really hit and miss but for Slowdive, the songs ‘Star Rover’ and ‘Sugar For The Pill’ are wonderful returns to form without having to compromise along the way. The crowd respond ecstatically to the new material rather than an ambivalent cheer in hopes of only hearing old songs.
Ending on the intoxicating ’40 Days’, it’s obvious that from tonight’s offerings, the band aren’t just picking up where they left off. They’re proudly moving forward and their cultural influence on countless artists is more significant than ever before. If there was ever a band to exemplify the aura and beauty of seeing a live show then Slowdive are the true masters of immersion.