Review: My Bloody Valentine at Tokyo International Forum

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

For fans of My Bloody Valentine, patience isn’t so much a virtue as a requirement. This, after all, is a band that took 22 years to follow up its sophomore album, and then did it with a record that — for all its admirers — felt more like a B-sides collection than a fully formed statement.

That album, “m b v,” might only have come out in February this year, but the band’s Sept. 30 show was billed as the first public airing for “new tracks” from the group. It was a promise that long-time followers might have known to treat with a certain amount of wariness, much like leader Kevin Shield’s recent insistence that “the main plan for next year is to make a new record.” That said, there was probably a good portion of the sold-out crowd at Tokyo International Forum that kept waiting right until the final rendition of “You Made Me Realise” — which Shields precedes with a mumbled apology (“Sorry about no new tracks, we didn’t know about that until we got here”) — before they conceded defeat.

By that point in the evening, though, it was unlikely that anyone was going home disappointed. My Bloody Valentine’s third Japan trip in the space of a year found the four members in a 5,000-capacity concert hall, with what was probably the finest sound system they had ever (ab)used. Organizer Naohiro Ukawa may have been overstating things when he claimed it would be okay to watch the show without earplugs, but the sonics were a real marvel all the same, remaining crisply defined even when they were cranked up to the kind of volumes you’d expect from a jet engine.

Compared to its stumbling, lackluster performance at Fuji Rock Festival back in July, where My Bloody Valentine flailed amid a hopelessly hobbled sound mix, the band was clearly in its element at the International Forum. Even the usually taciturn Shields appeared relaxed, joking to the audience sat at the back of the auditorium that “we must look really small up there.”

Though the show opened with a rare live airing of “Sometimes,” best known from the soundtrack of Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” the group otherwise stuck to the setlist that it had been touring all summer. Yet the songs — a well-balanced selection from the entire MBV catalog — seemed to take on a high-definition sheen in this setting. The comparatively gentle “Cigarette in Your Bed” was transportive rather than trudging, while Shields’ trademark “glide guitar” lines in “Honey Power” and “Only Shallow” hit like spurts of lava. It was like hearing a particularly lavish re-master of the originals: I’d happily take these live versions over their murky, compressed recorded counterparts.

Hearing the songs with such crystalline fidelity, it was also easier to appreciate the differences between the tracks from this year’s “m b v” album and the group’s earlier material: the way the melodies felt bleary and half-remembered, or the sounds seemed to come seeping through the walls rather than from the stage itself. And though the band still can’t seem to play “New You” without fluffing the opening, the rest of the song was really rather lovely.

As ever, the group finished with “You Made Me Realise,” stretching out the song’s infamous “holocaust section” for a nearly 10-minute, ear-shredding assault that was all the more discombobulating for being served up in a sit-down concert hall. We can wait for the new tracks: on this evidence, My Bloody Valentine proved it still has plenty to offer just as it is.