Like many other acts, Slowdive gained their reputation retrospectively. Back in the 90s, when their delightfully introspective albums were redefining the rules of alt-rock, nobody seemed to care enough for them -and they were infamously dropped by their label a week after third album Pygmalion was released.
Fortunately for us, the success of their 2014 reunion encouraged them to record and release a self-titled comeback album – their first in 22 years. As an album, Slowdive stands up to its predecessors. Their present European tour is a good chance to discern if its qualities can be translated to a live setting.
Opening was Blanck Mass – project of Benjamin John Power (Fuck Buttons) – who’s been receiving a fair share of attention for his 2017 album World Eater. His performance was most definitely a DJ set – although one which exceeded expectations. A series of somewhat disquieting images were shown on the screen whilst he performed, turning the set into an all-encompassing experience from which it was hard to feel detached.
His set demanded all of the venue’s attention – and we’re not talking just about paying attention to the music here. It felt more like a challenge to the audience than a warm introduction to the rest of the evening – which is definitely a bold move for a non-headlining performance. As for the music, it veered towards the Blanck Mass’s industrial as opposed to the ambient; loud bass blasts and thunderous beats hit Albert Hall for about 45 minutes in what was certainly an adventurous choice for an opening act. The risk definitely paid off.
Half an hour after the opening set finished – and enough time to put in some eye drops after Blanck Mass’ visual shock – Slowdive took the stage, gently opening with the beautiful ‘Slomo’, opening track off their newest album. Once Rachel Goswell hit those high notes during the song’s outro, the whole audience knew that they were in for a treat. Hearing Neil Halstead’s and Christian Savill’s guitars intermingle in a live setting, creating the band’s trademark wall of sound, is a privilege which should never be taken for granted. There’s definitely something to be said about the mysteriously way in which Halstead’s and Goswell’s voices beautifully merge into one. When they’re performing songs together, it really feels as if there’s nothing else going on outside the stage.
For an hour and a half, Slowdive offered faithful renditions of their powerful and hazey song catalogue. If anything, one could argue that they were too faithful to the originals. Certainly, no-one’s dumb enough to ask them to go on Phish-like via thirty minutes improv jams – but it wouldn’t hurt for such particularly gifted musicians to introduce some elements that differ from their studio recordings.
Even though they came to Manchester to promote their latest record, Slowdive’s set was a career-encompassing event that still managed to cement the opinion that their newest material is as solid as their heyday’s offerings. Some sparse looks at the audience revealed that new songs like ‘Sugar For The Pill’ and ‘Star Roving’ were as well-received as 90s classics like ‘Catch The Breeze’ or ‘Crazy For You’. That said, nothing could compare to the reactions prompted by the songs from break-through album Souvlaki. ‘When The Sun Hits’, ‘Allison’ and ‘Souvlaki Space Station’ illuminated their main set with breezy melodies and dream-like guitars, whilst ‘Dagger’ and ’40 Days’ provided closure to the encore in magnificent fashion. It was a triumphant performance from a band who’s not afraid to embrace both their past and present. Here’s hoping that Slowdive are kind enough to give us something to look forward to in the future.