2017 was a busy and triumphant year for Slowdive. The unexpected return of the beloved, influential, ’90s-indie rock icons came with an extensive tour and a critically-acclaimed full-length self-titled album — their first since 1995 — which boasts material worthy of an already stellar discography. And what better way to celebrate than by wrapping up the year with their first-ever show in Tokyo, Japan?
Held in a jam-packed, sold-out Akasaka Blitz on Dec. 12, Slowdive brought their famed, otherworldly shoegaze sounds to a captivated audience who had all seemingly been transported from Tokyo into another mystical dimension altogether. All throughout the show, Rachel Goswell’s distinct, airy vocals bled seamlessly into Neil Halstead’s soothing baritone. Coupled with Halstead’s and Christian Savill’s weeping guitars, Simon Scott’s unwavering drums and Nick Chaplin’s driving bass, the band brought about many wonderful, multi-layered walls of sound that engulfed the entire venue and did justice to the band’s incredibly rich discography.
The career-spanning set was kicked off with the ambient “Slomo,” the first track off their comeback album, which was accompanied by a surreal animated light projection of water, thereby setting the ethereal, cosmic tone of the rest of the show. The lead guitar’s pulsing sounds interspersed flawlessly with the reverb-heavy timbre of the fluttering rhythm guitar, sounding every bit as mystical as the album version. Indeed, the set prominently featured tracks from their self-titled album, all of which were well-received by the crowd, serving as proof of that album’s broad appeal and its potential to become, in time, just as iconic as the rest of their work from their previous albums.
Pygmalion, which could have been the band’s final album, wasn’t very well-represented on the set list. I myself, however, have a soft spot for it, and it seems like much of the audience did, as well. “Crazy For You,” accompanied with a lively, rainbow-colored psychedelic backdrop, sounded just as heart-warming as it does on the album; the guitars bright, dazed and bringing an almost summery feel to the venue. Their debut album Just For a Day was also barely played. “Waves” — which is one of my favorite Slowdive songs — didn’t show up on the set list, which was disappointing, but I was pretty happy about “Catch the Breeze” being there, especially given its ambient sounds representative of early Slowdive, faithfully replicating in the concert.
When it comes to the dreamy and atmospheric, no-one does it better than the band whose name came to frontman Neil Halstead in a dream. Astral, expansive “Star Roving” — a track which sounds like it was composed in the center of a supernova — followed the haunting, almost-gothic fan-favorite “Avalyn,” which was one of the more subdued and darker moments during the concert. My own personal high point, though, was during “No Longer Making Time,” which actually moved me to tears. In fact, I was pretty much sobbing; the song is one of my favorites from their new album, and to hear it live was pretty overwhelming. The mournful vocals and grieving guitars were taken to new emotional heights in a live setting, especially given the breathtaking visuals accompanying the music.
The other Pygmalion track, “Blue Skied an’ Clear,” created a lulling, calming effect, providing some breathing space just before the set reached an energetic high point toward the end before the encore. This high point began with “When the Sun Hits,” a life-giving, invigorating performance. “Alison” followed, arguably the band’s most recognizable track, which was superbly performed and showed off the band’s musical chops and brought the entire audience alive. “Sugar for the Pill,” meanwhile, was perfectly bittersweet, a “rollercoaster'” of emotion, if you will. Finally, the last song that the band performed before their encore, “Golden Hair,” was flawless and electrifying; Goswell’s voice at the beginning was singularly haunting, and, toward the end, the performance felt like a beautiful, big, warm embrace.
Deity-like they may be in my view, there were still a few minor hiccups during the set. Goswell apologetically admitted that her voice was beginning to go, evident from it having become huskier than usual during the show. Also, at some points, Halstead had what Goswell described as “tuning malfunction” issues with his guitar, causing delays for certain songs to be played. Nevertheless, all of this was understandable given how long they’ve been touring by this point. There’s something to be said about all that grounding such a dreamy show back to reality, though I felt that it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it; I thought it actually added to the charm of the performance, a sort of reminder that they’re actually human and not the beings of light they’ve transformed into onstage.
The set ended with a most terrific, three-song encore, beginning with the energetic “Don’t Know Why,” followed by the lovelorn “Dagger,” with the show officially ending with “40 Days,” a favorite off their iconic Souvlaki album.
Aesthetics were an important part of this show, and it seemed that no matter where you were in the venue you were bound to experience a real treat of both the auditory and visual kind. The band performed whilst several different light animations were projected onto them or onto the background, further emphasizing the plunge into another world that their music takes you into. (They even cleverly included a repeating clip of pills to accompany “Sugar for the Pill.”) Just as it’s recommended to sit at the back of a planetarium, the show seemed to be best appreciated toward the back of the venue, where one could have a wider vantage point of the whole band and the glimmering, diverse range of light-related visuals that they’ve decided to use to accompany their performance.
The return of Slowdive comes with explorations into new territory for the band, musically, figuratively and even quite literally speaking. Their new album showcased a venture into an ambitious sort of sound that taps into the dreamy haziness they’re already well-known for, while at the same time, establishing itself as different, marking a new era and sort of renaissance for the band. Points have already been made about Slowdive, and shoegaze music in general, recently attracting more of today’s youth, and, as proven by this recent successful Tokyo show, it seems that Slowdive have begun to attract a wider audience, not just in terms of age, but also from a more global audience — a welcome change for many bands for sure.
Slowdive as a live music experience is definitely not to be missed. There were several points during the performance when I truly felt like I was floating, the pedal-heavy guitars and Goswell’s elven voice beckoning me to sink and dissolve into the enticing world of light that their music conjures up. On the train back home, it was difficult not to tell the passenger next to me, in cult member-like fashion, all about the life-saving, incredible spiritual journey I just had or just completely zone out when thinking about what I had just seen and heard. It felt as if I’ve soaked up all the bright gossamer of their music and turned into a ray of light, myself.
The setlist for Slowdive @ Akasaka Blitz in Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan was:
- Crazy For You
- Star Roving
- Catch the Breeze
- No Longer Making Time
- Souvlaki Space Station
- Blue Skied an’ Clear
- When the Sun Hits
- Sugar for the Pill
- Golden Hair
– encore –
- Don’t Know Why
- 40 Days
Slowdive will continue to tour in 2018, and have recently been announced as a supporting act for The Cure’s 40th Anniversary show, along with other bands such as Interpol, Editors and Ride at BST Hyde Park in London this coming July. You can buy their new album on their website.