Return of the kings

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 12:48 04/02/2013

With the internet abuzz last night with the return of My Bloody Valentine I got to thinking about how it is very rare that a band returns from an extended hiatus and they are able to actually offer all that they did before; crucially what I'm looking for (and listening for) is that chance to be transported back - in the best possible way, but also I'm hopeful for some suggestion of a way forward too - not so much of (more) great things to come but at least a new angle, a new way in to explore the old material.

It's a tall order. A big ask. But that's what I want; that's what I hope for.

I can't comment on My Bloody Valentine as yet - I haven't heard the new album. I've heard one song. I found it reminiscent of the band's song shapes - so that's obviously a good sign, a good start, but it was a quick click, a brief listen. It has me enthused to try the album though, if anything.

But I had been ruminating over such thoughts ever since interviewing Rodriguez last week (the interview will run here at Blog On The Tracks this week). I can't see how the version of Rodriguez that will take the stage will deliver anything resembling the music from the albums - or from the documentary, since for so many of the people attending that is their point of entry. But, we shall see...

It got me to thinking about expectations - I loved seeing Simon & Garfunkel a couple of years ago but Art Garfunkel's voice was shot; I didn't want to hear new music from him, I could only just handle him serving up the old music; arguably it was lukewarm. But there are bigger reasons to see an artist beyond expecting picture-perfect renditions of what is on the records. You go - particularly to reunion shows - for the nostalgia, to doff your cap, to pay your respect (and dosh).

I couldn't understand why people expected anything other than what they got from B.B. King when he played Auckland a couple of years ago. To see the man at 85 doing what he was capable of doing with an extraordinary band was reason to go. To expect him to play like he did when he was 65 - or even 75 - is ludicrous.

But what about when a band is younger, much younger, but they've still had a long time between drinks...

On Friday night I went to Bailterspace's Wellington gig. Photo by Ollie Labone

Now you should know that I'm a fan. I wrote about the band's new album and return here and before that I shared some Bailterspace memories in another post.

You see I've been a fan of this band for a long time - and I managed to see them play a few times back in the mid/late 1990s. And it was (almost) always great. And it was always just a wee bit different. It was always an experience.

In a perfect world you want something to happen at a gig - you want it to be a happening; an event. Something above and beyond just listening to the record. Otherwise you can stay home - and just listen to the record.

I was a bit nervous about how Bailterspace might sound live - many years on from when I last saw them.

Here's my review of the gig.

It was a stunner of a show. There was this look on the faces of many of the people in attendance, as the show was happening and more so when it finished - a look of being gobsmacked by the music; we had been pummelled, all but pulverised. I left with ears buzzing static and I could hear distortions of secret melodies from the tunes hovering and circling for hours afterward.

That might not be healthy. But it was beautiful. It was so great to take something away from the show - tinnitus for example.

Seriously though - I spent the show reliving some of my memories of seeing the band in earlier days, where I was at, where they were at - more than once it was in the exact same venue as I saw them on Friday. We were all going by different names then - the venue was Indigo, the band was Bailter Space (two words) and I wasn't so much a different name but I was a different person. I didn't have Blog On The Tracks to define me as a hobby-writer, Twitter handle and Facebook page name at any rate. Some days it feels like that has become my name.

I welcomed the new music from Bailterspace when the album was released - it was not amazing, but it was solid. But the live experience was up there with the best times I had watching the band over a decade ago. And it reminded of those other great gigs; of how each one had its own smell, its own feel.

And I can't think of another time when that has happened - not like that anyway. Bands return with a new album after a long break - and it works. It really works. That happens - not all the time. But it does happen. For me most recently the new Dexys album has been the one; a marvellous load of twisted pomp-nonsense, art-edged drama and dark whimsy. Beautiful. And it makes sense following on from the band's other albums in order, never mind the big gap.

But I wonder if - too often - we have unrealistic expectations when we see a band live that has not performed for a decade or longer.

It's not for Robert Plant to sound as he did with Led Zeppelin when he plays here in April. But that doesn't mean his show won't be amazing- it will. It will be one of the gigs of the year. I'm very sure of that.

But for right now - and maybe for all of 2013 - it was Bailterspace with the gig of the year.

Did you see them? Are you going in Auckland tomorrow? Were you at Laneway?

And who else have you seen - returning after a lengthy hiatus - who blew you away still; rekindled the magic, rebottled the lightning, reminded you of the brilliance, the power, the energy and the sheer joy of a great live gig?

Postscript: More on My Bloody Valentine later in the week...

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Photo by Ollie Labone 2

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