Slowdive may have won over a new generation with their timeless sound but they have lost none of the old. Harvey Rae revels in the sensory explosion.
Astor Theatre, 17 July 2023
Once Britpop outsiders, Slowdive have emerged 30 years later as something akin to goth rock titans.
The dreamiest members of a late 80s/early 90s shoegaze scene that also birthed My Bloody Valentine and Ride, time has been kinder to Slowdive than most of their peers. Perhaps it’s their embrace of post-rock and Cure-like post-punk, but theirs is a timeless sound that refuses to be retro.
The Reading band’s recorded pinnacle (and basis for exactly one third of Monday’s set), 1993’s Souvlaki, remains a glorious high watermark. But just as good was 2017’s self-titled, ethereal comeback, which for a new generation was that year’s best record.
With new album Everything is Alive due on 1 September, Slowdive look set for something more permanent than a renaissance. Call it a second coming or even a step up, this is a band at the height of their powers.
You can see it in the crowd on Monday night. Youthful hipsters and colourful emo kids leave no doubt as to Slowdive’s currency, while the loyalists, most of whom probably used to be hipsters and goths, are out in force.
All are full of appreciation for upstarts Blue Honey in support, whose memorable set is highlighted by one of the great Perth debut singles in years, Colin. An emotional epic as heart-rending as anything Slowdive produce later that evening, it is no fluke, with Blue Honey continuing to show promise with a follow-up EP and singles Save Me and Burden.
Indicative of their rising gothic majesty, Slowdive emerge in a sea of psychedelic visuals, Rachel Goswell in particular owning centre stage not just with her voice but also a black cloak and hair dyed black on one side and peroxided on the other, a la Cruella de Vil. Like some kind of exotic, eccentric priestess, she and songwriter/co-singer Neil Halstead usher us in with lush opener Slomo.
The set peaks early and never lets up. Four songs in, Catch the Breeze erupts in a rush of flashing strobes and shooting stars across the screen, a reminder that, like their best-on-ground performance at Laneway in 2018, Slowdive live is as much a sensory explosion as the recorded counterpart is a dreamy escape.
From there it’s less about peaks and valleys a la post-rock (that would come later) and more about momentum maintained as an onslaught of their most popular tracks follows, starting with the ecstatic riff of Star Roving. The slide guitar majesty of Souvlaki Space Station; a guitar-heavy take on Crazy for You, the evocative visuals of Sugar for the Pill; the pure pop of Alison; and the building shoegaze chime at the heart of their most popular song, When the Sun Hits: each one as memorable as the last.
“This is a new one,” defacto bandleader Goswell tells us ahead of Kisses, and it’s immediately progressive courtesy of a futuristic synth intro, before settling into the chiming guitars of The Cure at their 80s peak. We learn about Goswell’s favourite animal after a punter breaks the pin-drop silence between songs: “Cats!” Goswell exclaims, admitting she has four, as well as a tortoise named Derek.
The staple closing any Slowdive set, just as it did at Laneway, is a take on little known Syd Barrett tune Golden Hair (they’ve been playing it since the early 90s). Following Goswell’s breathy incantations to start the song, she leaves the stage and allows the remaining band members to truly let rip, in an epic post-rock finale that would impress Mogwai or Sigur Ros.
And then the night’s one sour note: the setlist says three songs left including Blue Skied An’ Clear, but sadly that one isn’t played. It’s of little consequence though, as the gorgeous harmonies of Dagger and then a rollicking (by Slowdive’s standards) 40 Days close the set in a catchy dose of dream-pop heaven.
Between 1995 and 2014, Slowdive took an almost 20-year hiatus. Yet unlike many bands of their generation who have since reformed and come off cynical or financially motivated, it’s impossible to question the artistic motivations of this great UK act.
Best of all, it feels like they’re just getting started (again), riding a peak of aural hallucinations that might finally earn them the popularity they deserve.
Pictured top: Slowdive show why they have crossed generations of fans. Photo: Adrian Thomson
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