'Treading a fine line between chaos and unity, their power has not diminished'
Alexandra Pollard

11:29 20th May 2014

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Slowdive arrived on stage five minutes ago, but they’re still plugging in instruments, and fiddling with guitar pedals. “All that build up,” jokes Rachel Goswell, the band’s vocalist, guitarist and tambourine player, “and then…”

In fact, to call it a ‘build-up’ is something of an understatement - this is only the band’s second gig in 20 years. It was supposed to be their first, but they performed unannounced last night in Hoxton to celebrate the 10th birthday of shoegaze label Sonic Cathedral. Tickets for tonight’s show sold out almost instantly, many flew in from mainland Europe and beyond to attend - and the few tickets that became available on eBay went for upwards of £170 each. Fans have, after all, been waiting for this moment for two decades.

Perhaps in Hoxton, then, the band made more of the 20 year break, and the immense gravity of their reunion, but one suspects not. Tonight, certainly, the gig’s significance is all but ignored. It seems likely, given their modesty on stage, that had the band allowed the weight of their own hype to fall too heavily on their shoulders, they would never have organised a reunion in the first place.

As they glide from opener ‘Slowdive’ to ‘Avalyn’, it becomes clear that the band’s immense hiatus has done nothing to diminish the power of their live shows. The avalanche of noise they produce treads the fine line between chaos and unity with a precision many bands have tried and failed to emulate during Slowdive’s absence.

The only evidence of rust comes in the form of the occasional false start and clumsy song change, but once each song has begun, muscle memory kicks in, and the delighted crowd are in safe hands. For the most part, the band’s vocals, haunting and ethereal though they may be, are designed to blend in with, rather than stand out from, the cacophony of instruments enveloping them.

Tonight, the balance they strike is almost perfect, and on the odd occasion that they allow their vocals to be more prominent, the strength of their voices is clear. Around half of the band’s set-list comprises songs from their second album, Souvlaki, which Melody Maker described at the time as a “soulless void”, declaring, “I would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again.”

Upon its release, the band’s third and final album was met with even more animosity, and they were dropped by their record label almost immediately. Shortly after, the band collapsed. Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell reunited under the name Mojave 3, but while their attention was elsewhere, Slowdive’s popularity was growing. As those who were too young to appreciate them at the time began to pay attention, their fan base became bigger, wider, and more fervent. The band that critics had so viciously derided became, in their own absence, iconic.

If anyone was sceptical of the extent to which Slowdive’s fan base has grown, in both number and intensity, they need only to spend five minutes in tonight’s crowd. The gaps between songs are filled with shouts of ‘I love you’ and other unimaginative but heartfelt declarations of appreciation; there are several people who spend the entire show punching the air so violently it appears their whole body is spasming, and one man decides, wildly inappropriately but admirably nonetheless, to crowd surf.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1991, Halstead said that Slowdive wanted to “create something big and beautiful and sort of timeless.” Twenty three years on from that statement, all three of those have proved to be true.

Slowdive played:
Catch the Breeze
Crazy for You
Machine Gun
40 Days
Blue Skied an' Clear
Souvlaki Space Station
When the Sun Hits
She Calls
Golden Hair (Syd Barrett cover)
Rutti (Live premiere)

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