Thursday night’s assembly for seminal shoegaze progenitors My Bloody Valentine at the House of Blues was a study in contrasts: The nearly sold-out crowd was a mix of shaggy grown-ups likely weaned on cassettes of what was then called “college rock,” alongside hundreds of young things riding the second or third wave of nu-gaze (via bands like Tamaryn, Mahogany, and No Joy). Innocence and experience, all blocking their ears to be able to hear.
And throughout its lengthy, career-spanning set, My Bloody Valentine’s sound bore out the tension captured by its name — a captivating, ferocious blend of tenderness and savagery.
The mystique of MBV was accrued through the band’s prolonged absence; after the shockwaves from 1991’s epically influential “Loveless” fanned and petered out, the band began to pull apart, barely releasing anything aside from a few covers. By 1997, it was kaput.
My Bloody Valentine
The following decade found devotees pining for Kevin Shields and company to stop hinting and start recording. So when 2008 found MBV returning to the stage after 16 years for a few reunion shows, fans went digging for their lucky earplugs once again. The release of “m b v” earlier this year codified the band’s return as less of a nostaglic cash-in and more the resumption of a noisy mission waylaid by a decade of tight-jeaned dance rock.
On Thursday, the band reinforced the critically lauded seamlessness of its long-strung discography by mixing genre-defining classics from “Isn’t Anything” and “Loveless” with favorites from a couple stray EPs and a generous helping of its newer material. As usual, the variations in style — and there are plenty, from the blast and jangle of “Nothing Much to Lose” to the soaring drone of “Sometimes” — were mortared together by the band’s signature shtick: intense volume. In a city where anything over 70dB makes the authorities wince and come knocking, the band is already at a disadvantage, fond as its members are of readings in the tooth-loosening 120-130dB range.
But even tamed somewhat by the law, the sound was inescapable. During “New You,” the tremolo from Shields’s fortress of amps felt like it could split the floor; the jet plane samples that course through “Wonder 2” turned the room into a tarmac; and sped-up crowd pleasers like “Only Shallow” and “When You Sleep” coiled their aggression around the just-audible-enough cooing of Shields and Bilinda Butcher. Heads bobbed, hair swung, but for the most part, the audience bathed in the band’s flood of light and sound. And while the finale — a much ballyhooed version of “You Made Me Realise” that collapses into 15 minutes of pure, apocalyptic noise — was hardly a surprise to the crowd, they eagerly succumbed to its force: Some threw their hands in the air as though to hear through them, some cowered to the floor for protection from the onslaught, and some stood blissed-out with their eyes closed and arms out, as though falling from an unknown height to an unknown depth.
For a band so devoted to a particular niche of rock, the fervor around My Bloody Valentine’s return may be slightly overblown; but rare indeed is the rock band with an ability to be so many things at once: gentle and rough; meticulous and chaotic; nostalgic and new. But perhaps the band’s greatest skill is its ability to transport listeners to simpler times, with a simpler ethos: Pay no mind to the past, shrug at the future, and tear the present to tatters.