Slowdive found a way to marry shoegaze’s swirling aesthetic with songs that feel emotional.
As improbable as it may seem, Slowdive is touring in 2017. One of the pioneers of shoegaze, the Reading band helped define the genre in the ‘90s with three landmark albums, only to vanish from recording following 1995’s Pygmalion. Though the band did re-form in 2014 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Souvlaki, and has been on the road on and off since, no one expected to see the self-titled new album that dropped this year. Any new Slowdive music is reason to celebrate, however the band managed to produce a late-era work of art that rivals any of its ‘90s output.
Like the band’s music, ticket sales for the Portland show moved on slow burn. It took time, but eventually all of the venue’s 1,500 spots were snapped up by eager fans. Friends of mine who witnessed Slowdive’s last visit to Portland in 2014 said they were moved to tears by the meticulous live recreations of Souvlaki’s songs. However, with new album in tow, this most recent stop was as much about looking forward as peering into the past.
The band took the stage amidst swirling smoke and blue stage lights to wordlessly launch into “Slomo,” the beautiful song that kicks off its new album. In the live setting, the musicians preserved the exquisite and delicate nature of the song, its extended instrumental introduction leading up to the very moment when Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s vocals intertwined in perfect harmony. The band then moved on to “Slowdive” (from the EP of the same name) and “Catch the Breeze” (from 1991 debut Just for a Day), taking us back to the very beginning. They waited a full five songs before dipping into Souvlaki, but the wait was worth it. “Souvlaki Space Station” was a muscular change from some of the more delicate songs that preceded it.
Yet, the new songs sounded just as good as the old ones, nestling perfectly into the setlist like sparkling jewels. “Sugar for the Pill” sounds remarkably contemporary and “Star Roving” with its amazing lead riff was gorgeously crystalline. By the time “Alison” showed up 11 songs into the set, it felt more like a bonus rather than a long-awaited hit. Perhaps the biggest highlight wasn’t even a Slowdive song, but it came when the band finished off the first set with a soaring cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair.”
After kicking off the encore with new song “No Longer Making Time,” Slowdive rewarded its fans with two much-loved Souvlaki tracks: “Dagger” and “40 Days.” Unlike contemporaries My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive found a way to marry shoegaze’s swirling aesthetic with songs that feel emotional. The band’s Portland show, in all its beautiful symmetry, proved as much.