Slowdive in Seattle, 11.4.2014
In 1995 I met Sacha Feirstein. With dark hair framing alluring eyes, a mysterious smile, and a tantalizing taste in music, she caught my attention during sophomore year in college. We went to a few shows and she turned me on to some great bands. While my attraction to Sacha was short-lived (an out-of-state boyfriend already had her affections), I will always be grateful to her for expanding my musical universe. To this day I remain a fan of the English band Slowdive, whom I first heard in her dorm room.
The rich and languid soundscapes of their second album, Souvlaki, were like nothing I’d heard before. A devotee of most things Eno, I was intrigued by his presence on the record. While many American ears were trained on the brash British guitar rock of Oasis and Blur, I found something fresh and invigorating in the layered textures of Slowdive. It dripped with delay and chorus, the ethereal vocals drifting above. It was like painting with music.
Twenty years later the album retains its magic of restrained intensity. I just had the fortune to experience it in a way I never would have imagined in the mid-nineties after Slowdive had disbanded: live. Tuesday, November 4 the reunited group played a sold-out show at Seattle’s Neptune Theater.
The exuberant crowd looked familiar: approaching middle age, possibly very cool at one time, possibly still cool, and effervescing in anticipation of a momentous performance. We were not disappointed.
Following a protracted intermission (the opening band, Low, was superb), Slowdive appeared to screams of adulation and, interestingly, a backdrop from Eno's Apollo. People have waited a long time for this. Alongside me my friend Amity (who is friends with the girlfriend of Nick Chaplin, the bass player) reported that guitarist and singer Neil was feeling ill and might not have the energy to play. Thankfully he battled through, for the performance lived up to expectations.
In concert the band’s sound was instantly recognizable but also a different creature. The calculated focus of the studio was swept away by the ferocity of the stage. Familiar songs that ebbed and flowed on the albums now crashed against the rocks, sending thunderous drums, roiling bass, and waves of guitar washing over the crowd. Yet their taut energy and discipline kept the musical intensity finely honed. Time has not slowed Slowdive. I felt a joy at hearing the music from formative years performed with the mastery and passion of when it was created.
Before and after the show Amity and I spent a few minutes with Nick Chaplin. He was a gracious host and was excited about the tour. It's a pleasure to hang out with musicians who are more focused on their music than on being famous and to whom the gratitude of fans is humbling. This is not just a reunion tour, it's a celebration of enduring music from an important time. Will there be new material? We can only hope that the positive reception Slowdive receives on this tour will inspire a return to the studio. And maybe somewhere, in a dorm in Ann Arbor, another Sacha will introduce an admirer to a great new album.