It was almost a repeat set from three years ago, but those intervening years have made the UK shoegazers a more potent live band
SLOWDIVE and JAPANESE BREAKFAST at Danforth Music Hall, Friday, May 5. Rating: NNNN
Japanese Breakfast were just in Toronto two weeks ago, playing three of the final shows at the Silver Dollar during CMW. The significance of that event wasn’t lost on bandleader Michelle Zauner, who took a moment out of the band’s Danforth Music Hall performance to acknowledge the venue’s unfortunate closure.
It made sense for the Eugene, Oregon, band to jump on this tour with Slowdive, though: Japanese Breakfast make modern shoegaze-inspired pop that adds nice balance to a bill with old-school shoegazers Slowdive. Songs like Everybody Wants To Love You and the new Machinist added some pep to the night. And Zauner dedicated a song from her upcoming album to her “boyfriend,” local rapper Drake, before declaring her love for Degrassi.
Slowdive, too, have special ties to Toronto. The shoegazers played their final show at Lee’s Palace in May 1994 before calling it a day. It’s a moment in time that the band have always held close to their heart, and one frontman Neil Halstead couldn’t help but recall during their sold-out Danforth Music Hall set.
Their second return to the city since reforming (the first was during their 2014 reunion tour), the UK band had a new landmark moment to celebrate: the release of their new self-titled album – their first in 22 years. “Today is our record release day,” announced vocalist Rachel Goswell. “We are all very relieved it is finally out there.”
With eight new songs in Slowdive’s catalogue, fans might’ve reasonably expected a markedly different set than the one we got three years ago. Instead, it was near-identical aside from the swapping out of a few oldies like Albatross and Dagger with four new ones. (They even kept the same walk-out music: Brian Eno’s Deep Blue Day.) Sticklers might complain about the lack of change (we did get a new batch of visuals), but honestly the set list represented their best output.
Plus, those three years have only made Slowdive a more potent band than ever. Crazy For You, from 1995 album Pygmalion, is no longer a shimmering ambient track. These days, it fluctuates with force and vigour due to a bolstered heavy low end. 1993’s She Calls also loses some of its studio weightlessness live, thanks to a cranked concentration of ear-splitting noise and Simon Scott’s thumping drums, making it the loudest song in their repertoire.
What’s remarkable about the new songs is how smoothly they fit in. The new album’s lead track, Slomo, demonstrated how Slowdive’s heavy layers of reverb and quixotic tones sound more relevant than ever. They played half of the new album, which included a rousing turn at No Longer Making Time, before signing off on a magical and discombobulating night with Souvlaki’s drowsy 40 Days.
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