It had been 20 years, a lengthy absence seemingly lost on the band but not on its fans. Slowdive’s last Boston-area show was at the Middle East in 1994, a year before they would part ways and go down as a seminal band in the shoegaze movement.
When the English quintet’s classic lineup returned to Royale on Sunday, time clearly had been on its side. The show had sold out months in advance, and there was something glorious about the lack of fanfare onstage. Singer-guitarist Neil Halstead offered a convivial, “How you doin’? It’s nice to be here.”
Beyond that, Slowdive saved the fury for its performance. It was transcendent, the kind of night fans had dreamed of and then left the venue spellbound.
Slowdive’s initial run was short but furtive, releasing just three studio albums between 1991 and ’95 but casting a long shadow over alternative rock and bands that find beauty lurking in the shadows.
Since announcing its reunion in January, Slowdive has had most of this year to shake off any rust at various music festivals before this US tour launched. Indeed, the band has fine-tuned every aspect of its live performance, which was relentlessly focused and never once ostentatious over a 90-minute set.
Their signature style was intact, from the twin attack by Nick Chaplin on bass and Simon Scott on drums to the warm but fuzzy vocals by Halstead and Rachel Goswell, both mindful of the power of restraint. When the usual distortion dissipated for “Dagger,” the crispness and subtleties of their voices meshed into something unexpectedly tender; there was grace at the heart of that cacophony.
Stage left, Christian Savill was ferocious on guitar, anchoring each song with undulating patterns that shimmered one moment and quaked the next.
On “Blue Skied an’ Clear” and “When the Sun Hits,” the grooves unfurled to luxuriant lengths, imparting the sensation you were hearing them while lying at the bottom of a waterfall. During “Catch the Breeze,” kaleidoscopic shapes in black and white twisted and turned on the screens behind them in synch with the song’s psychedelic sprawl.
Stage fog crept in to set the mood for a cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair,” whose softness swelled into a buzzing euphoria. It was so epic that, halfway into it, Goswell took a seat side stage to watch the aural fireworks. Within a few notes, “Alison” and “Souvlaki Space Station,” from 1993’s “Souvlaki,” rippled over the crowd in waves of joy and recognition.
I can’t remember the last time I saw so many eyes closed at a rock concert, as if posing an inner question: Is this really happening?