gig report: My Bloody Valentine, Hammersmith Apollo, March 2013

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Whilst I was as guilty as anyone for treating My Bloody Valentine's tour warm-up gig in January as a proper show to be dissected and criticised, it was clear from reports from other UK shows in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester just prior to these pair of London dates, that the band had taken that rehearsal show and upped their game quite a bit.

The first Hammersmith show was a revelation. In fact the only reason the second show wasn't a revelation is because it was pretty much the same. I am a My Bloody Valentine veteran and I have seen them seven times prior to these shows. They played at my old university in Belfast when 'Glider' came out. It was a cheaply priced, half empty gig on a Friday night in the student's union and it left me stunned. I remember going back to my student flat feeling like I had been hit over the head. More alarmingly, I was completely unable to hear the communal tv in the living room.

Since then I've seen them make less impact in the daytime at an open-air festival, and I've witnessed mixed reactions as they included their infamous extended You Made Me Realise in their Rollercoaster tour slot. For some perspective on this, the show I saw (Sheffield Arena, if anyone cares) was opened by Blur.

I saw their 2008 return as the sound bounced all over the Roundhouse and I was there for all three nights when they were occasionally brilliant on the centre stage at Minehead when they curated All Tomorrow's Parties.

I'm going through all my previous encounters because, particularly on Tuesday, my reaction to their 90-minute, 17-song set was, "who are you guys and what have you done with My Bloody Valentine?" There were no sound-related grumps, no false starts, and the vocals were audible from my vantage point.

On both nights, the band played with a tightness and energy that I hadn't witnessed before. They also came across as very much a band, a solid unit, even when the four of them are joined by the unannounced fifth member Jen Macro for extra keyboards and guitar on the new material.

Highlights were many and hard to isolate, from the first blast of 'I Only Said' through to blistering, energised versions of the 25 year old 'Feed Me With Your Kiss' and 'Nothing Much to Lose', and Kevin actually played a solo on the brand new 'Only Tomorrow'. There was no difference in running order between nights, the only discernable change was that Wednesday's version of 'Soon' was longer.

I reckon that these two shows were the best that I have ever seen them play by quite some distance. In the interests of balance, I did try to seek out some dissenting voices, in a "were you at the same gig as me" type scenario. I have to say I found an awful lot of people were in agreement with me that this was mbv at their zenith, but grumbles about the sound did come from people who were seated upstairs and at the back of the sloped ground floor. From my vantage point about ten back from the stage on the ground floor I thought the sound was perfect on Tuesday and very good on Wednesday.

The audience at the back won't agree but the main reason for this is that My Bloody Valentine have actually turned the volume down! I am keen to protect my hearing because my job depends on it and I love my ear plugs, but I have to say that until 'You Made Me Realise' I felt no need to have them in. Without getting too technical about it, this is because my vantage point on both nights was off-axis to the gigantic line array speakers at each side of the stage. Folk in the firing line of those would've had no choice but to wear earplugs.

It made me wonder what was the point of 'You Made Me Realise' in the set nowadays. It still has that incredible slab of noise which should be something you physically experience, rather than listen to, and on both nights it felt like someone was drumming on my sternum. Although it was amazing, it was almost at odds with the rest of the set, which was essentially a band treating us to a vital revisit of their best material. Also, much like Orbital's remarkable shows last year, the new material felt integrated and at home within the set.

So I could debate this with myself all night, but basically, if this isn't number one in my gigs of the year in December I will be amazed. I loved every minute of it.

You all know the set list by now I'm sure, but here it is anyway.

I Only Said
When You Sleep
New You
You Never Should
Honey Power
Cigarette in my Bed
Only Tomorrow
Come In Alone
Only Shallow
Nothing Much To Lose
To Here Knows When
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realise
Wonder 2

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