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.
In 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
On 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.
Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip
“Thou Shalt Always Kill” snottily name-checks 10 bands you like and 20 more you don’t. And despite its 2007 chart success in the duo’s native Britain, I’ve only heard it played here at Forever 21. But the silly single belies the arch electro cuts and disenfranchised rhymes of the pair’s debut album, Angles; it proves there’s more to these Essex boys than pissing on the Arctic Monkeys. For electro-rap without the chip on its shoulder, this show looks mandatory. Mercury Lounge, mercuryloungenyc.com.
How many years later, these lo-fi Londoners are still compared to the White Stripes. And true, bluesy guitarist Jamie “Hotel” Hince does resemble an Anne Rice character, slurs incomprehensibly in interviews, and courts supermodels (Kate Moss, currently). But feline singer Alison “VV” Mosshart would never sit stoically behind a drum kit — she’d thrash it to matchsticks and fling it at your face while shrieking that you’re just “no wow.” This year’s Midnight Boom, their third album, patched more post-punk and pop into the formula; expect a proper dance party with claws. Music Hall of Williamsburg, musichallofwilliamsburg.com.
Anyone else miss the days of splinters and sexx laws? Not Beck — he’s taking his new echoing, edgy psychedelic rock on the road, presumably without puppets like that other tour. This jaunt (with MGMT) supports Modern Guilt, his terrifically unsettling 10th album and the first produced by Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley — and doesn’t the crestfallen animated heart in their “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?” video succinctly sum up Beck nowadays?). If anyone can kick the tires and find the circus in bizarre, mindful ’60s rock, it’s this man. United Palace Theatre, ticketmaster.com.
Yura Yura Teikoku
Since their formation in 1989, Yura Yura Teikoku have been the underrated linchpins of the Tokyo psychedelic underground scene. Five spoon-bending albums later, they’re finally eking out overdue interest stateside. The trio works a tricky, accessible blend of flailing ’60s guitar, aggro bass lines, and noisy electro-pop, plus the theatrics to match — singer Sakamoto Shintaro used to shave off his eyebrows and part his long hair to resemble a traditional Japanese ghost; now he’s just trying to be Lou Reed, and it still works. Openers Obits and Invisible Conga People may not share the same apparitional bent, but they’ll spaz out justifiably. If you’re bored with the Boredoms, Yura Yura Teikoku have been in the wings all along. Music Hall of Williamsburg, yurayurateikoku.com.
CMJ Music Marathon
Otherwise known as Day of the Locusts downtown. Herds of college-radio idealists gather again to propel dozens of up-and-coming artists to center stage and celebrate the fast rises and seedy falls of last year’s herd. In ’07, Santogold and Deerhunter caused bottlenecks; this year’s schedule was still up in the air at press time, but expect all the most promising in indie rock, hip-hop, and dance. Festival passes tip the scales at over $400 but are unnecessary for many smaller shows; snag tickets early at the venues and pogo next to FM wild-eyeds all night long. Throughout NYC.
Missed them at the McCarren Pool party? Spindly singer Bradford Cox periodically interrupted the seismic art-punk feedback to scream, “Brooklyn is our delay pedal! Those condos are our delay pedal! This guy right here is our delay pedal!” To which the audience gawped quizzically and Cox sighed, “Don’t ask me to explain my art” — then petulantly ripped their faces off with an hour of aggressive, temperamental, exploratory rock. Times New Viking, Columbus, Ohio’s most technophobic troupe, opens. Perhaps live, they will not try to make their adorable lo-fi rock sound like it was recorded in a wet trash can. Bowery Ballroom, boweryballroom.com.
He’s like Phil Ochs minus one finger. (No, not the middle one.) New York expat Richard Shindell, now a resident of Buenos Aires, unspools outraged tales of social injustice over mewling, meditative folk. Seven albums in, he’s learning to embrace the halcyon moments — though, as he noted on his website recently, he did just have an incident with an ax and his left index finger. Bummer — he was really lightening up. Bring spare bandages and sympathy with your $25. Le Poisson Rouge, lpr.com.
Who needs to get on the Night Train nowadays? Presumably Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the amiable indie-rockers astrally hyped in 2006 for their DIY business credo of refusing to sign with record labels and then bragging about it. They’ve been meekly MIA for awhile, trying to regain momentum, but drummer Sean Greenhalgh still pulls up his (pleather) bootstraps for Mr. Brownstone, a wicked Guns N’ Roses cover band that also features members of Satanicide. Yes, Greenhalgh plays Axl. Yes, he’s still got unresolved feelings against the evil music industry, all of which will be expressed in an eloquent snake dance. The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza, irvingplaza.com.
He zagged through Africa last year for the documentary Throw Down Your Heart, so it’s about time Béla Fleck came home. The Manhattan native is arguably the most famous banjo player in the world (or he will be, once someone argues about banjo players) and has won eight Grammys for his “blu-bop” hybrid of jazz and bluegrass. Uganda taught him about the roots of his instrument; his residency at the Blue Note will remind him about Louis Vuitton bags and $135 wines. Blue Note, bluenotejazz.com/newyork.