When music historians look back on the 2010’s, will they see it as the decade of unlikely reunions? It seems like nearly every week another band that had their heyday – and their dissolution – in the 80s or 90s is announcing a return. Some, like Sleater-Kinney, come back with new material as strong as their classic releases, while others like The Pixies seem to have lost their magic. Some last for a single tour and then fizzle back out, as seems to have happened with the much-touted return of The Replacements. Many seem to be testing the waters, seeing if the band, older and wiser, can put their past reasons for splitting behind them and make things work, and if they still have an audience. For some, it seems to have clicked – after a successful run of touring last year, Slowdive has been hinting at new material in the works since the beginning of this year – while others seem ready to fade back into the past – Neutral Milk Hotel is about to play their last shows “for the foreseeable future.” And of course the first question that the fans have to ask is always “Have they still got it?”
When British shoegazers Ride announced their reunion at the end of last year, that question was at the front of nearly everyone’s minds. In their prime, the band had released two brilliant, genre-defining albums, 1990’s Nowhere and 1992’s Going Blank Again; one fairly good album marred by internal conflict, 1994’s Carnival of Light; and one mess of an album made by a band collapsing under its own weight, 1996’s Tarantula. While some members had stayed in music (most notably Andy Bell, who did a stint as the bassist in Oasis and as the guitarist in Beady Eye), others had left the public eye for normal day jobs and hadn’t actively performed for years. Would the band that emerged back onto the stage be the live powerhouse they were once known as, or would they be a shadow of their former selves?
By the time of their show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on June 1st, enough reports had come in, including those of show-stopping performances at Coachella and Primavera Sound, for the audience to know that they were in for something special. The show, originally scheduled as a warm-up gig to larger performances at Terminal 5 in NYC and Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, very nearly didn’t happen – after playing at Primavera Sound in Barcelona, the band had their flights to New York cancelled for several days in a row, and only finally arrived on US soil hours before the gig. While it would have been absolutely excusable for them to be completely exhausted after such an ordeal, if they were they didn’t let it show, playing a blistering two-hour set to a venue packed with fans who had travelled from all over to see them.
Not surprisingly, the band focused most of their effort on their earliest, most popular material, playing seven of the ten tracks from Going Blank Again (opening the show with fan-favorite and album opener “Leave Them All Behind”) and four tracks from Nowhere (including “Seagull” and “Vapor Trail”). They played two songs each from their three pre-Nowhere EPs, including “Chelsea Girl,” “Dreams Burn Down,” and “Perfect Time.” Of their later material, only “Black Night Crash,” the most popular (and probably best) track off of Tarantula made an appearance. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night came in the inclusion of “Sennen” from the 1991 Today Forever EP.
Ride had a reputation back in the day for their loud, overpowering performances, and their performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg showed that they haven’t softened at all with age. An almost constant barrage of bright strobe lights, along with bright backlighting, filled the stage for much of the show. If the lighting seemed intense, it was only the visual analog to the volume, which remained uncompromisingly loud, peaking during an extended version of “Drive Blind” that finished out the main set with bass so strong that you could feel it vibrating through your chest. If the intent was to overwhelm the senses, it was successful – and glorious.
All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.