By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
I tapped my ears and wondered why they weren't ringing. Later, they were sore. But standing before noise-rockers A Place to Bury Strangers at the Bowery Ballroom last year, three days before Christmas, it seemed that the self-proclaimed "loudest band in New York" was all brawn and no bite. They'd cut the fat, and now all that remained were sonic steroids: tuneless decibels, looped past any measure of purpose, flagellating an indifferent audience. (Dry shirts at a noise show? Chilling.) The boredom was also onstage—in the marsh of neon-streaked smoke and shoegaze squall, every scream seemed like a condolence.
But was it wrong to want it a little louder anyway?
"No, this is just what people do while they wait for My Bloody Valentine to reunite," sighed my concert companion before hurling his beer cup and smashing it underfoot.
It's been 15 years, so those people have probably squeezed in a few more activities: played the ponies, wandered the desert, cried milky Creem tears for other departed acts. But they don't have to wait any longer because, in case you haven't heard yet, My Bloody Valentine will stomp New York floorboards again. This month.
It's alarming, even though cult-band reunions are trendier than iPhones nowadays. Since the Pixies stormed Coachella in 2004, it seems like every middle-ager with a thinning pate and gold record is raring for the road again. But this is the most exciting reunion in years: It doesn't merely hint at the memory of rock 'n' roll insurgency, it might actually deliver it fresh. It could also gloriously implode at any minute, and there'll be no glamour if it does.
After all, the band hasn't resolved their issues; they split in the mid-'90s amid the pressure to follow up Loveless, 1991's pioneering noise/shoegaze album (their second after 1988's dazed Isn't Anything). Anxiety stemmed from singer Kevin Shields's debilitating perfectionism and mental problems spurred by drugs; he locked himself in Syd Barrett–like exile and spent the next decade dabbling in other projects, notably the Lost in Translation soundtrack. Bassist Debbie Googe drove a taxi. Drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig learned how to pronounce his name—and will hopefully teach me someday. Shields and singer/guitarist Bilinda Butcher may have broken up, though both are more zip-lipped than J.D. Salinger. Today, Shields is still wrestling his demons (by his own admission), and Loveless still doesn't have a follow-up.
So MBV are restoking a blaze set by two records and their many heralded past shows, and the two elements have little in common. Seventeen years after its release, Loveless is a cornerstone of the noise genre (alongside releases from the Jesus & Mary Chain, the Velvet Underground, and Cocteau Twins). Furthermore, it's one of the most engaging shoegaze albums ever—though "melody" can be a dirty word in noise-rock, MBV were shrewd enough to capture jagged refrains and burn them into essence. Loveless bears the fingerprints of a small army of engineers; pitch bends and guitar distortions fold into each other and crest in warm, ethereal layers, like violins in a white-noise wall of sound ("When You Sleep" and "I Only Said" especially). Shields and Butcher's vocals meld into each other and over words, leaving warped murmurs and hissed spaces. The effect is slippery, past logic.
And live? They're simply fabled to be loud. But unlike A Place to Bury Strangers, Autolux, and other shoegaze descendants, MBV are known for reaching painful aural highs and lows. Reports of their late-June UK tour mention attendees' hair rippling from the force of 15 precariously stacked amplifiers and the infamous, excruciatingly overdrawn bridge of "You Made Me Realise," a feral 20 minutes that had audience members passing out in the '90s and may yet again. And yes, the band still stands immobile and glares at their pedicures—hence the genre name they spawned.
My Bloody Valentine will play at the Roseland Ballroom on September 22 and 23. Given their volatility, there's no way to know what'll happen—whether they'll ignite onstage or squander the momentum they've earned. But MBV are an elusive, thrilling band that seem finally ready to carry their weight. Maybe the second time around, they'll feel touched, too.
Roseland Ballroom, roselandballroom.com.
September 12In 2005, during the club-thumping international heyday of Supernature, Alison Goldfrapp swathed her tailfeathers in sequins and shook them without pity. And lest the sleazy suggestions of "Ooh La La" be lost on her audience, she also slapped aluminum horseheads on her backup dancers and led them in centaur stripteases. Three years later, she and composer Will Gregory are making music for the morning after; Seventh Tree, their fourth album, finds the Brits adrift in gentle, bohemian trip-pop as demure as a Notting Hill morn. Their only East Coast gig should be similarly understated and luxe—but keep your fingers crossed for the horses anyway. Radio City Music Hall, radiocity.com.
NYC Wizard Rock Festival
September 21On the sliding scale of geekdom, Harry Potter fans are relatively normal—at least they don't swing phallic glowsticks or sit in closets talking with anti-Semitic lions. But watch them all freak the fudge out at the NYC Wizard Rock Festival, Williamsburg's first gathering for all those who tithe to J.K. Rowling. Enjoy the (possibly sexual?) spell of Celestial Warmbottom and the brooding fervor of Draco and the Malfoys, who snarl such lines as "We were teamed up in dueling class/And no one else believed that I would knock you on your . . . bum." The real magic words: full bar. Public Assembly, nycwizardrockfestival.com.