Short on words, Slowdive lets guitars speak louder

Slowdive at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Nov 3 2014. Kirk Chantraine photo.

Slowdive at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Nov 3 2014. Kirk Chantraine photo.

Review and photos – Slowdive at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Nov 3 2014

– review by Thalia Stopa/photos by Kirk Chantraine

It was a miserable, wet night Monday night in Vancouver, but I wished I would have brought my sunglasses with me to the Slowdive show at the Commodore. Although I expected the aural assault of high decibel distortion, I was unprepared for the barrage of flashing neon images and excessive layering of blinding strobe lights. At times so sudden and bright was the onslaught that there was no time for the audience’s eyes to adjust from the pitch black. At its best and loudest, Slowdive’s performance was like a meteor hurtling towards Earth, stunning the audience into holding its collective breath. This pseudo-apocalyptic summoning had little effect on the composure of the band itself though, especially singers Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead (also on guitar), who maintained their cool for the entire nearly two-hour set.

The English experimental rock band, which formed in 1989, returned from their 20-year hiatus earlier this year with a performance in Barcelona as part of Primavera Sound 2014. The last time that the quintet had played together on stage was in May of 1994 at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace. At least a couple of fans that I talked to pre-show never thought they would have the chance to see the shoegaze rockers play live, and were riding on a wave of anticipation, amazement and nostalgia. Vancouver’s stop on their North American tour – the first along the West Coast – was one of the only shows not to sell-out prior to the date, although the venue was still full.

With colourful geometric graphics, images of eyeballs, Blythe dolls (projected during “Machine Gun”) and other random images projected onto a background screen of floor-to-ceiling stacked amplifiers, the band’s Commodore show was a cinematic, swelling and gut-wrenching experience. The summer festival circuit and eight prior North American tour stops had clearly provided the band with ample practice leading up to Monday night, and everyone seemed completely at ease on the Commodore stage. However, the band members themselves seemed to expend very little energy. Even Goswell’s little black dress was understated compared to her sartorial choices at the Pitchfork Music Festival and the Best Kept Secret Festival. Perfectly preened and coifed, and rooted atop a pair of killer pumps at the microphone, the dolled-up, petite brunette broke her stance only for the intermittent application of tambourine, maracas and guitar.And, despite their decades-long break from the band, all five members were surprisingly short on words for their rapt audience. Of the five band members, including drummer Simon Scott and bassist Nick Chaplin, guitarist Christian Savill, who paced the stage, was the most lively presence.

Opener Low was a relatively low-key choice to set up the evening. The Minnesota three-piece, which consists of husband and wife Alan Sparhawk (vocals/guitar) and Mimi Parker (vocals/bass), and Steve Garrington (drums), have released ten albums since Slowdive split up in 1994.

More Slowdive photos:

About Thalia Stopa

Thalia Stopa fled the brutal winters and mosquitoes of Winnipeg eight years ago. She now lives and works as a shop girl in Vancouver. A five-time post-secondary school drop-out, she is currently pursuing her love of beer, music, writing and art as a freelance reviewer. She is a self-confessed 'dabbler' in various other arts, including illustration/comics, piano and dance. Her next pursuits include old-fashioned film photography and the ukulele.
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