The lights dimmed, and a purple glow faded in behind centerstage. The band appeared; Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead were among them. A hazy green and blue projection washed over the stage and their faces. Out poured the music — velvety curtains of noise that rolled over the crowd like waves on a beach. Each note was rendered with precision and clarity but, as a whole, the sounds were hazy and half-awake.
This was the experience the crowd at the Barrymore Theatre got when Slowdive took the stage on October 4th. The rambunctious, atomic energy of opener Cherry Glazerr got everybody feeling a bit winded; the fiery solos and driving vocals of frontwoman Clementine Creevy blasted open the doors and left everyone vulnerable to the shoegazey mysticism which was to quickly follow.
When Slowdive started playing, it was like the old walls of the Barrymore fell away and the crowd was taken someplace else. Vocals, guitars and drums blended, on each song, into a different flavor of Slowdive’s trademark sweetness. Frequently, the stage was so awash with haze and colored light that the band was hardly visible except in silhouette. Only the impression of their presence, and the sound itself, was important. Multifoliate pinwheels of light emerged and rotated slowly as the band alternated between their legendary songs and excellent newer work. Occasionally, the lights would strobe as the music reached a fever pitch; psychedelic geometry was projected behind the band members who in turn faded in and out of the haze on stage. It’s no understatement to say that the visual presentation of the concert was as important as the music in building the dreamy atmosphere in which the crowd had the privilege to share.
The climax of the set came at its conclusion, when the band went through a heavenly triplet of songs with “Alison,” “Sugar for the Pill” and “Golden Hair.” When Goswell left the stage during the last of the three, the apogee of the trip had been finally reached, and the Barrymore started its meteoric descent back to Earth. The band continued to rifle off noise that built to a godlike climax before finally stopping. When the lights came back up, the band’s absence and the silence was jarring, but we were all home safely.
The experience of the main body of the concert was so compelling that I couldn’t help but regret the inevitable encore, which came a few minutes after “Golden Hair.” But the performances of “Dagger” and “When the Sun Hits” were, of course, excellent. When the band finally left the stage I was glad for having heard them.
When everyone was walking out, I heard someone detailing the emotions they went through during the set; they apparently felt a profound sense of catharsis. Slowdive took everyone at the Barrymore up somewhere very different than Madison, Wisconsin, and all of us were lucky that they did.