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Slowdive, Manchester Academy. 27th February 2024

Updated: Feb 28

The first of this weeks three gigs come from Slowdive at the packed out Manchester Academy. At this time of year it’s a bit chilly outside, so once again I’m happy with the body heat in what’s otherwise just a big cold black room. A big cold black room though is quite a good setting for Slowdive. Are we calling this new tour a come back? I’ve never really thought of Slowdive going away,  although there was a break after the 90s, but to be fair they’ve never been a band I’ve fallen head over heels for. That is until the latest album Everything Is Alive. It’s a near perfect collection of atmospheric shoegaze, reclaiming their space as pioneers that many bands have followed. Bands a little like Whitelands who I only catch the tail end of. I’m 50/50 on this band though, there’s some great songs on their new record, but some stuff that jars my ears too. I’m kicking myself that I couldn’t get here earlier though and give their full set some proper attention.

As Slowdive take to the stage with ‘Shanty’, although it’s soaring guitars are powerful it’s clear this isn’t going to be an energetic gig. There’s just no inclination to jump around, this sound keeps you gloriously pinned to the ground. The layers of guitars echo and reverb like the Cure, before hitting the gas for ‘Star Roving’. It’s thumping drums setting the pace for everyone to keep up with. Not the vocals though, they stay drawn out and dreamy. Creating deep textures matched by the funky video projection that’s framing them. After that ‘Catch the Breeze’ does feel a touch flat. I mean it still sounds great and easily fills this cavernous space, but it doesn’t grab me until it’s noisy finale with the lights going mental and the video making you feel like your in that trippy scene from Kubrick’s 2001. ‘Skin in the Game’ keeps up the trippy vibe, but in a different way. It’s much more melodic and dare I say it, summery. There’s a beautiful hopefulness to it, even with the stage bathed in an ominous blood red. They don’t chat much. “How is everyone?” and “Its very nice to be back in Manchester” is as much as we get, until we and the crew are thanked later, but that doesn’t matter when you’re being bludgeoned in a sonic sound bath. The jangly undercurrent of ‘Crazy For You’ gets a few bodies around me gently bouncing and swaying. Heads lolling freely. It’s quite jolly. They’re a band with a definitive sound. A formula if you like and they stick to it, but there is space and aptly ‘Souvlaki Space Station’ certainly pushes it and has you lifting your head that bit higher. Like many songs it finishes with an all guns blazing wig out. Nothing groundbreaking about that, but fucking hell they do it well. I think everyone’s happy with ‘Chained to a Cloud’s slow intro that allows us to collect ourselves. The synth melody providing a metronomic backbone for them to build on with warm riffs and breathy vocals. I’ll be honest the vocals aren’t too clear in the live mix, but they’re clear enough to do the songs justice. Ironically the breakbeat drums of ‘Slomo’ gives it some drive, but the whimsical guitars keep it in check as it drifts round my head, lifting me out of the room. I’m not sure I’d picked up on the Cure reference so much before, but it’s there again for ‘Kisses’, another one from the new album which really is bloody amazing. It might be because I’ve moved a bit further back for ‘Alison’ after grabbing some water, but there’s a lot of phones out recording. I guess it’s better that it’s happening more at the back but it’s still annoying. The song gets a massive cheer though, so maybe it’s just a fan fave. They stay out for ‘When the Sun Hits’ too which isn’t a surprise, it’s a massive anthemic song that brings the only real singalong. ‘40 Days’ is introduced as the last song as we’re thanked for coming out and bizarrely loads of people start heading for the doors. Are they really trying to beat the rush? This isn’t a football match. Plus of course there’ll be an encore. ‘Sugar for the Pill’ is a nice way to lead back in and sounds lovely as giant pills animate on the screen behind them and I dare say a few people realising their error leg it back in. It’s not a raucous finale though. ‘Dagger’s solemn lament is not standard encore faire but does tick the atmospheric box with its funeral pace and haunting vocal. It’s quite a moment and honestly not one I was expecting. The real last song is ‘Golden Hair’ their Syd Barrett cover. Again it might not seem like an obvious choice to start. It’s slow intro sounding like Kristen Hersh at her most haunting (I believe the lyrics are stolen or inspired by James Joyce), before the rhythm section sweeps in, those guitars begin to layer up and it climbs higher and higher. A couple next to me hold one another and sway with smiles on their faces and if there’s a good metaphor for this gig, that is it. Slowdive, I didn’t think they’d find their way into my heart, but tonight they cracked it open.


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