Things Are Looking Up
SENSITIVE YOUNG waifs be damned! In Sheffield University's cavernous, inhospitable refectory, Slowdive singer Rachel is chatting relaxedly with the crowd, sticking her tongue out at the camerman and even (whisper it) moving. What begins with a few flaps and beckoning fingers is, by 'Primal', staggeringly close to dancing, with the mic wrenched off it's stand for extra mobility. Even her collegaues Neil, Christian and Nick look up occasionally, to shuffle around the stage or crumple over their guitars.
The most painfully introverted live band in the country, whose pedal-gazing intensity has become a millstone to detract from their swooningly beautiful music, are slowly beginning to crack the static mould. If they'd trashed their gear we couldn't have been more surprised.
So destroy those preconceptions now. Afterwards, playing football violently, raving about Thomas M Harris, being funny, voluble and more than a little drunk, Slowdive appear neither the pretentious aesthetes their music suggests (to an army of journalists struggling to define the indefinable, at least), nor the evasive apologists of countless recent interviews.
And they should debunk their own myths more often. The shoe-gazing/murmuring scene, whilst edging towards mainstream acceptance, is already facing a backlash. Not because of the music - frequently some of 1991's most dazzling - but because of the bands' inability to sell themselves in interviews, and their embarrassment at being part of a 'scene'.
Like it or not, Slowdive do have more in common with Chapterhouse than joint origins in Reading, do share certain tactics with Moose (who they've never actually met). It's a deft juggling of influences - Valentines, Sonic Youth, Cocteaus, you know the list by now - the subtlest, sneakiest manipulation of three-guitar noise and a languid rejection of rock dynamics. Given a chance, and a little explanation, similarity can be a strength.
That said, it's understandable Slowdive wriggle, horrified, away from such catergorisation. They are, after all, currently the best of their kind by some distance - and not just in the movement stakes. Operating within an incredibly limited range - measured basslines, dense guitar washes, breathy vocals ad infinitum - Slowdive have honed their music pretty close to perfection. It's difficult to see how they'll develop, although Neil promises even slower songs on the next tour, but career prospects seem irrelevant right now. With only a fortnight's rehearsal, Slowdive can successfully reproduce their plangent, purposeful states of grace to a degree forbears My Bloody Valentine have so rarely managed.
It's a fairly short set, augmented by tasteful William Morris slides and rather predictable cloud projections. Three new songs are unveiled from the half-completed debut album, due some time in the autumn. Pick of the bunch is 'Brighter', spacier and a little less sombre than usual, with some lilting, chiming guitar. 'Morningrise' and 'Slowdive' drift along as enchantlingly as ever, and 'She Calls' is still the closest they come to breaking into a trot.
Finally there's 'Avalyn', replete with howling, head-spinning climax and a great moment when two guitarists and the bassist turn to face each other and wilt simultaneously into that familiar stmoch-cramp-posture. A bliss-out ballet, or sorts.
The crowd seem detached and, later, Slowdive admit they have problems gauging a reaction. But how do you respond to this music: intoxicating, certainly, but hardly immediate; demanding almost as much concentration to listen to as it does to play? Someone climbs on his mate's shoulders and wobbles incongruously for a couple of minutes, but the two blond bwol-heads who, hands clasped before them, nodded in unison throughout, were much more typical.
Just as Slowdive are kicking the habit, it seems like the sjoe-gazing addiction has slipped off the stage and out of their control. Time to dive in head first.