Last time I saw Slowdive, it wasn't under the best of circumstances. While I still managed to enjoy the show, trying to watch from outside the venue wasn't exactly ideal. When I heard about this show, I jumped at the chance to see them in a proper setting.
Venue: Huxleys Neue Welt
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 3 October 2017
Opening Act: Isan
02. Catch the Breeze
03. Crazy for You
04. Star Roving
06. Souvlaki Space Station
08. Don't Know Why
09. Blue Skied an' Clear
10. When the Sun Hits
12. Sugar for the Pill
13. Golden Hair [Syd Barrett / James Joyce cover]
14. No Longer Making Time
16. 40 Days
Isan are an English electronic duo. They played some warm, chill grooves with an outdoor vibe, almost like I was at a campsite at dusk. The dream-like sound suited the mood of the band they were opening for, but they risked being too mellow and easy to get lost in. Especially since they had no stage presence and the light show was minimal, it was easy to be distracted. The audience was only partially interested. A couple of their tracks picked up with a heavier beat, which served to break things up and keep attention focused, but I ultimately enjoyed the lower-key music more. Their closing number crescendoed more substantially and brought things to a nice finish.
Slowdive started the night with their new self-titled album's opening track, the slowly unfolding "Slomo". They immediately sounded just as good as I could've asked for, and they picked a perfect song for the job of introducing themselves and their new album. The instruments started sparse and shimmering, but gradually layered across each other magnificently. Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell's vocals took their time to enter but melded seamlessly. The mix of instruments was excellent, and the vocals were surprisingly clear and strong (considering that the band is famous for exactly the opposite).
Their setlist may not have been full of surprises, but they chose a good mix of songs from across their career. The place for surprises came in the form of the nuances of the performances. Continually throughout the night, I found myself noticing details that I'd never heard on the records, like a bass riff or drum fill that only appeared briefly in the background. I'm still not sure if those elements were always there and had previously escaped my notice, or if the band just adds little flourishes at will when they play live. Either case is believable, but in any event, those additions made the performance sound particularly special.
Several songs featured intense, extended jams that took their recorded versions as a blueprint but launched much further and deeper than what I'd heard before. "Catch the Breeze" was especially notable in that regard; it built up to thunderous peak that had me completely entranced. "Golden Hair" was given a similar treatment, although I was expecting that one.
"Souvlaki Space Station", on the other hand, was played in a more dynamic style. The band emphasized the calmer verses by dropping the intensity of the guitars substantially before the trademark sweeping effects returned to focus for the rest of the song. Most songs carried a high energy level, but "Dagger" was extremely stripped down, and "Blue Skied an' Clear" was fairly tame as well. These quieter moments might have been a let-down but for the fact that they served as a reprieve and a counterpoint to the rest of the set.
Slowdive's new songs are no disappointment, either. While the laziness of self-titling the album is unfortunate, the contents are what matter, and they are impressively consistent with the band's older work. Although it may sound like familiar territory, the band only had two original classic albums (sorry, Pygmalion), so re-asserting themselves in the same vein is hardly a matter to take issue with. Live, the new songs fit alongside the older work gracefully. Their quality is high enough that I found myself anticipating and enjoying them just as much as the other songs.
The only flaw of the show came in the form of a few drumming hiccups. A couple were minor and easy to forgive, but at the start of the coda of "No Longer Making Time", right when the music picked back up, a drum effect went haywire and the band just cut off the closing chords of the song. It was no great loss, and to an extent there is comfort in seeing a great band make a mistake so that you at least know that it's not all pre-recorded. And if that's the worst thing I can complain about, I know that this was a superb show.
Slowdive (the new album): A-