Slowdive & Ulrika Spacek - Arts Club, Liverpool

by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date:

After their surprise return in 2014 after nearly two decades away Slowdive have been busy catching up touring European festivals and venues in the USA and Canada. Bar four gigs in London their home country has not been on the radar until today, with a trip to Liverpool's Arts Club, a cosy venue that seems to share DNA with Sheffield's Leadmill, with a wide stage, that gives everyone here in this packed out venue an excellent view of proceedings.

Up first are fellow Reading natives Ulrika Spacek, formerly known as the acclaimed Tripwires, who released the excellent 'The Album Paranoia' last year and who are already prepping album number two 'Modern English Decoration' for release in a couple of months and playing many of those new songs tonight. Their name suggests spectral sounds and psychedelia and that description isn't too far from the truth. A democratic set up as the three guitarists all take turns to lead, with the interplay and precision of the delicately plucked and chopped guitar notes between them a highlight throughout the set. With Rhys Edwards' set-back and dazed vocals, Ben White's unconventional bass lines and Callum Brown battering the drums, the collective noise, that delves on occasion into Diiv, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Stereolab territories, is beautiful, abstract and shape-shifting, but consistently in sync with the appreciative audience, with 'I Don't Know' and 'Strawberry Glue' the highlights of a terrific set.

I was lucky enough to get down to London for Slowdive's brief residency at the Kentish Town Forum at the end of 2014 and was blown away with a phenomenal performance that stuck mostly to their early EP's and Souvlaki. Since then they've been busy working on a new album and are debuting several of these new tracks on this UK tour. Up first though is 'Avalyn', perhaps their most dreamiest and hypnotic number, and it doesn't disappoint, as Neil and Christian's glacial guitars, Nick's high-end bass and Simon's spacious drums builds the atmosphere before Rachel adds her beautiful, torch-lit vocal. It deeply imbeds itself in the audience as many have their eyes closed in transcendence of the luscious noise emitted from stage. After that amazing opening 'Catch The Breeze' feels like a stumble, as the usual warmth of the record instead seems cloy and muggy. Thankfully this is only temporary as Pygmalion's only representative 'Crazy For You' with its great guitar loops, subtle electronics and Neil's hypnotic vocal re-energises proceedings.

When 'Star Roving' appears it is greeted as if it's a classic of old, a beefy swirling number that though clearly wears its Slowdive motif is forward-thinking, with more hooks than a fisherman's tackle box. 'Sugar For The Pill' is poppier than anything they've released and shares its fondness with other newer numbers for directness, but it's 'No Longer Making Time' that seems to take the boldest steps, reliant on electronic drums, decayed notes and the debut of keyboards to bring new and interesting dimensions to the Slowdive sound.

This is a confident set from a band clearly enjoying themselves which Rachel especially epitomises, smiling throughout and exchanging witty interactions with the audience. Though each song is enthusiastically received it is 'When The Sun Hits' that truly lights up the crowd, enchanting them with breathless vocals and shimmering guitar work, however it's the two songs that close the main set that are the true highlights. 'She Callls' is even more mournful and yearning than ever before and its instrumentation truly hits the nervous system in the chord drops between the vocals, but closer 'Golden Hair' is just the perfect ending, with Rachel's almost unaccompanied vocals leading the track into intoxicating wonder, who departs leaving the remainder of the band to patiently and intricately build up a wall of blissful noise.

The encore seems anti-climatic in comparison. Though the always welcoming 'Slowdive' and new track 'No Longer Making Time' are great, it's a shame they ended with '40 Days', a benign and aloof number that fizzles out without any imprint. However we have been treated to a brilliant gig by two bands, with different past histories, who both have an exciting future ahead.

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