Published Oct 29, 2014Twenty years ago this past May, Slowdive played a show at Lee's Palace in Toronto. At the time, no one thought much of it, as the band were still working on their third album, Pygmalion. As it turned out, the gig would be their last for 20 years, as the band would go on to split following Pygmalion's release. (The day before that final gig, lucky Torontonians (myself included) saw Slowdive open a show for James at the Ontario Place Forum, where they performed on the revolving stage. The band remember it as "one of those bizarre experiences that [we'll] never forget.")
Slowdive reunited earlier this year and played their first show in London almost 20 years to the day of the Lee's Palace performance. Who knows if anniversary dates hold significance or it was just coincidence, but upon arriving in Toronto, the Danforth Music Hall was buzzing with folks who had been a part of that history.
I doubt there is a more suitable support act for Slowdive than Duluth, Minnesota's Low; you can't even spell the band's name without Low. The longstanding indie vets set the mood with their intensely sombre and sparse performance, opting to play a more recent selection of their catalogue. This meant last year's The Invisible Way got the most attention, but a stirring version of the Mimi Parker-sung "Laser Beam," from 2001's Things We Lost In The Fire actually hushed the 1500 in attendance. Why they didn't perform "Canada" is beyond me.
Walking out to Brian Eno's "Deep Blue Day," Slowdive took the fog-covered stage, which featured 12 small screens, perhaps a nod to the "Alison" lyric "TV covered walls." Fittingly, they began with their titular, debut single, "Slowdive," immediately demonstrating with their three-guitar wall of noise that the night would get loud as fuck.
One of the big lingering questions was how they'd perform selections from Pygmalion, since they never actually toured that material. The album marked a major shift in sound for the band, moving from heavily layered, effects-heavy guitars to skeletal ambient music. For this tour, the band radically modified the songs: the cascading walls of electronics "Crazy for You" were replaced with guitar noise, which rendered it as more of a rock song, much like "Blue Skied An' Clear," which was expedited and beefed up.
Some purists may have found the drastic reworking of Pygmalion to be blasphemous, but alongside prompter versions of "Alison" and "When the Sun Hits," the set felt more cohesive and modernized. As did seeing the full band play "Dagger," which on Souvlaki was more or less Neil Halstead and an acoustic guitar.
An epic performance of "Golden Hair" blew the roof off the building, something they weren't exactly known for back in the '90s. It really should have been the finale. The encore of "Albatross" and "40 Days" felt a bit anticlimactic, but more in the way of getting dessert when you're full from the main course — why the hell not?
Perhaps the biggest surprise with Slowdive 2.0 was Halstead's voice. During the band's original run, he adopted a soft, lazy whisper; now he sings with the folksy, singer-songwriter lilt he's used in Mojave 3 and as a solo artist. The tweaking wasn't off-putting, but more evidence of the band fine-tuning their music to suit their performance needs in 2014. Slowdive are not the band they were 20 years ago; over time, they haven't just aged, they've adapted and carefully considered their legacy. They are a better band now than ever. Let's hope it lasts this time.
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