Walking out to the celestial drift of Brian Eno's "Deep Blue Day," the moment Slowdive stepped foot onstage at Massey Hall, it felt like a dream.
It's a shoegaze cliché, but there was a time when, if anyone told you Slowdive would return an unceremonious 19 years out from their dissolve in 1995 (and for a new record three years later, no less) you wouldn't have batted an eye.
Especially considering the cold slice of rejection press, fans and their label alike served them in the late years of their initial run, the project's renewal has felt surreal on all fronts. The final gig preceding Slowdive's hiatus played out before the cult intimacy of Lee's Palace; this past May, they packed the Danforth Music Hall on the same day they released their followup to 1995's Pygmalion.
Six months later, local fans were still ready to stand and be counted, sort of.
"It's very nice to be back so soon," Rachel Goswell greeted the crowd from centrestage, adding a whispered addendum: "It's also a bit weird that everyone's sitting down. But, you know."
Chalk it up to Canadian politeness or the track's cinematic symphonics, but the crowd took in the dialogic swing of opener "Slomo" without taking any liberties, and Goswell's instigating rib did the trick; it wasn't long after Simon Scott counted the band into the cascading swirl of "Slowdive" that everyone was on their feet, and a significant and particularly emboldened chunk of the floor audience were charging to the front for one of those magic Massey moments. Ushers did what they could to politely manage the crush, sending anyone left in the bottleneck of the aisles back to their seats (safety protocol, you know), but the lucky ones that made it to the stage clung on all night.
"Thanks so much for standing up. It makes it so much less weird," Neil Halstead said. He's right; even if you took in Slowdive recordings reclined on your bed peering at the stucco on your ceiling, you should know that, live, those woozy creations are better taken in as full-body experiences, reverberant seas of sound you should let wash over you from all angles, kicks hitting you in your chest.
For the most part, the night's setlist was a carefully reordered duplication of the one the band brought to the Danforth, with minimal addition and subtraction, swapping out oldies like "Machine Gun" and "She Calls" and adding "Dagger" and Slowdive's "Don't Know Why" into the encore before capping off with the heartbroken Lent of "40 Days," the new record now equally matching Souvlaki by way of catalogue representation.
More elusive tracks like Pygmalion's "Crazy For You" and the band's cover of Syd Barrett's "Golden Hair" got updates that communicated a newfound use for immediacy, the latter capping off the set proper with an extended post-rock coda (that said, the quiet-loud dynamics that power "When the Sun Hits" felt disappointingly gradual here — but as I watched the board tech lift his hands in frustration whenever the track really let loose, that seemed like more of a house difficulty).
It all seemed to cement the fact that the band are here to stay, and maybe (just maybe) we can have nice things. Twenty-eight years in, as Slowdive eye their legacy of transmissions through the distorted fog of time, they seem to have a newfound use for the instant, the hurt of inter-band relationships gone sour made approachable and pliable by decades. Hindsight is 20/20, or the cloudy shoegaze equivalent.