Review By Nikki Eenink
A hipster in the World’s Smallest Beanie, a middle-aged couple with tattoos peeking out from under their jumpers and a leather-jacket clad goth walk into a venue. You ask them who they’re there to see. As a chorus they say, Slowdive. This was the exact situation I was faced with one freezing Friday night at Melbourne’s The Forum. And it was absolutely packed. Long before the opening riffs of support act Flyying Colours, the Forum is overflowing with swaying heads, bodies clothed in all black and the smells of uniquely spicy, floral perfumes. The anticipation hangs in the air, it mixes with impatience, and we all crane our heads, desperately waiting for the lights to dim. Slowdive has been sold out for a long time, and tickets were literally impossible to nab second-hand, so to say I was excited to be there, is an understatement. Clearly, everyone else is too. Two days after turning 24, I was ready to watch a band which defines a search for identity in your 20s. As the mothers of one of the Melancholic Youth’s favourite genres, shoegaze, the British 5-piece have been spitting out top-of-the-line, sad ambience since 1989.
Opening is Australia’s own, Flyying Colours. Who, despite having no bassist, create one of the most beautiful musical experiences I could ever imagine. Using backing tracks, the three vocalists create wonderous layers of loud. Songs like Ok sound better in the open spaces of The Forum, they linger in the air and taper off in such a delightful way. It is perfect harmony all the way through, the three voices melting together like butter, the guitars and the drums never fighting for dominance – instead sharing the sound equally. Flyying Colours really can’t be defined by genre. They have mastered shoegaze; with some tracks throwing it back to the 90’s – sad oozing chords, low voices which spit out lines of lovesick poetry. But equally, they can do poppier tracks, sort of Australian-picnic vibes. Either side of the coin, they are the perfect band to listen to on a car ride, they are a walking film soundtrack, they are the perfect opener for Slowdive. They don’t spend much time speaking to us, aside from the odd, profuse “thank you”, instead they take us from song to song. Their setlist is so heart wrenchingly gorgeous I don’t want the songs to end, and they know that. We are eating out of their hands, never wanting the spell to break. And then, they’re done, and we are left wanting more – and aching for tonight’s main act.
I find shoegaze especially hard to write about, the songs are wonderfully atmospheric, they take you on a journey that it can be hard to tell when one ends and when one begins. But Slowdive, masterful as always, have found the perfect way to punctuate their show. Behind the band is the biggest projection screen I’ve ever seen at a concert like this. Insane visuals dance across the screen throughout the show – Out-of-Body experience is putting it lightly.
Slowdive walk on stage so suddenly, softly, so without fuss. Rachel Goswell is wearing the most fabulous pink-and-red feathered cape. She takes the microphone with gentle hands, looking down at the floor before taking a big breath in – and we begin. Opening so strong with Slomo, the screen behind them wiggles and morphs, the graphic looking like oil on water. The insane rainbow acid-trip of colours cover the band, they look like silhouettes, peacefully strumming, plucking, and drumming. The song ends, and it’s clear Goswell is our spokesperson for the night. Between every song she just leans into the microphone and says, “Thank you”. In return, there is an endless sea of “We love you, Rachel!” being shrieked from the crowd. To this, again, she just says; “Thank you”, this time with a blushing side-smile.
Then we are thrown into it again. An absolutely unreal line-up of songs pours out of the band. From self-titled Slowdive, into Avalyn – with the visuals turning into something that looks like a sci-fi highway. Swirling lights, and long lines invite us to jump into a super-fast car – TRON style. Catch the Breeze into Star Roving are stunning, the lights on the band are just white, with a grey wash covering the stage. The visuals are insane, they only grow in complexity with each passing song. This time, there is a pill, moving and spinning – leaving trails of itself across the screen. On one side it says “SD” and the other “1-989”. I can’t look away. I feel my head moving from side to side as I follow it on its journey. It’s hard to say exactly where I went, but I couldn’t think about much of anything, except that I needed more of this music. Every bad feeling I’d ever had, every doubt, every moment of self-loathing was bandaged by the masterful drumming’s of Simon Scott, Nick Chaplin’s warm, moody bass playing and the indescribable guitar work of Christian Savill and main songwriter, Neil
Halstead. It’s all nearly too-much. The visuals and the sounds are a complete consumption of the senses, it’s easy to lose yourself, but it is just right.
It's during Souvlaki Space Station, that something special happens. At the end of the song, the screen becomes a wild place – harsh lights quickly pulling away, like we are being sucked into a black hole. And then I notice that someone is screaming. Or is it part of the song? I stand there, transfixed. I’m still not sure. But it is a guttural, primal scream from deep inside someone. Slowdive reached into their gut and pulled out all the shameful, painful shit inside. And in a fit of catharsis, they scream. And I realise, we all want to. I imagine myself screaming, throwing all of that shit against the projection screen, and letting the music of Slowdive suck me into the black hole – ready to be born anew.
Sugar for the Pill and Alison are such strong personal favourites. These songs have rescued me from dark pits with no end. I touch my cheek and realise I’m crying. And I’m not alone.
I think I’ve tried every anti-depressant on the market in an attempt to ease my daily melancholia. None of them put a dent in the physical and mental relief When The Sun Hits provides. This song has to be in the arsenal of every gently aged music-lover in a genuinely vintage concert shirt for some band we’ve heard a million times at a family friend’s barbeque, and every emerging adult, eyeliner laid on thick, peering at the stage through heavy eyelids. A lattice of projected lights shifts around the projection screen, lines all moving together; I can nearly hear its heartbeat. Everything Slowdive touches, turns to life. The soundwaves sit so thick in the air I breathe them in with every inhale and swear I can nearly touch the perfectly played melody. An entire audience does something between a sing, a yell, and a scream. “It matters where you are!” It feels like we sing it over and over, until it becomes a mantra. This crowd cares about each other, as weird and diverse as we might be, there is such an incredible community between us.
If you know me, you know I fucking hate encores. So, when Slowdive was gearing up for theirs, I was very humdrum. But then, they play Dagger and 40 Days. One is the closer of their cult-classic album, Souvlaki and is never given the praise it deserves, and the other is a cult-classic in its own right. They have absolutely smashed it. I almost like encores now.
The visuals turn off, and the band walks off again, Halstead holds his baseball cap in his hands. But we don’t want to leave. My legs ache, but my feet feel like lead. It takes everything in me to turn my back on the stage and head into the night.
I know I’ve just written 1400 words on it, but I still don’t have the right words to describe my experience at The Forum. I’ve been into the Slowdive black-hole, and I’m never coming back.