Just teens when childhood friends Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell formed Slowdive in 1989, the five-piece from Reading were soon snapped up by Alan McGee’s Creation Records. Home to shoegaze contemporaries Ride and My Blood Valentine, their early EP’s were met with critical acclaim. However, the popularity of the genre had already begun to fade when their debut album Just for a Day arrived in 1991. By the time their sophomore effort Souvlaki dropped two years later, Britain’s music press had become infatuated with Britpop instead.
Tastemakers like the NME and Melody Maker had a lot of power back in the early 1990’s and they could be pretty ruthless with it. As soon as they decided shoegaze was no longer cool, reviews and general treatment of bands labelled as such could be quite harsh. Slowdive know this more than most and it appears some their fans haven’t forgotten either. “Fuck the NME!” one shouted out during their performance at Liverpool’s East Village Arts Club the other night. And quite right too.
It wasn’t exactly an easy ride the first time around, with fellow musicians also happy to stick in the boot into the introspective teens. Most notable among these was Richey Edwards of Manic Street Preachers who once declared: “I hate Slowdive more than Hitler.” But things have changed. In the two-plus decades since they split, the influence and popularity of shoegaze has only grown. Souvlaki is now rightfully considered a classic, and Slowdive are loved by the music press once again.
After an unlikely return to live action in 2014, their aim was have some fun and enjoy being in a band. You could certainly see that this was case during a breathtaking performance in Liverpool on Tuesday night. Both older and wiser, there was a certain glow about them, which may have had something to do with the fact that they’d announced the release of a fourth album earlier that day. Scheduled for release on 5th May, the self-titled LP will arrive 22 years after their last album.
It’s amazing to think that people stopped turning up to their gigs in the mid-90’s. That definitely wasn’t the case at the Arts Club, with the show selling out on the day tickets were released. After re-introduced themselves to their fans with the slow-burning with ‘Avalyn I’ from their self-titled debut EP, they picked up the pace a little bit with ‘Catch the Breeze’ (the only song from their debut to make it past rehearsals). ‘Crazy for You’ from their ambient-influenced 1995 album Pygmalion featured early on too, with the gorgeous ‘Blue Skied an’ Clear’ from the same LP also given a run out.
Everyone knew they were in for a special night as soon as the trance-like bliss of ‘Machine Gun’ kicked in, opening the door to a run of material from their classic album. The shoegaze-era produced several superb LP’s, with only the genius of Loveless preventing Souvlaki from being top of that list. With tracks like the dub-influenced psychedelia of ‘Souvlaki Space Station’ and the quiet-loud perfection of the uplifting ‘When the Sun Hits’, it’s almost impossible to disappoint. Throw ’40 Days’ and the hazy beauty of ‘Alison’ into the mix and they were always going to be on to a winner.
The band also showcased some new material for only the second time. Among three new tracks taken from their forthcoming album, ‘Star Roving’ came across strongest. The paciest performance of the evening, it sees them going back to their roots while also offering a nod of approval to the modern shoegaze sound. The other two tracks taken from ‘Slowdive’ were more on the softer side, with ‘Sugar for the Pill’ a dose of straightforward pop which highlights their new found maturity, while ‘No Longer Making Time’ features a gorgeous vocal duet and little more noise.
Their 2014 return proved to be among the most welcome comebacks of the past decade. Now with their latest tour and a new album on the way, it looks like they’ll be sticking around for a little while longer. Vindicated and finally getting the respect they deserve.