Concert Review: Slowdive at the Majestic Ventura Theater

text by digital-media

07 July, 2024

words by: Malakai Peterson
photos by: Avery Morgan

The legendary shoegaze band Slowdive began a new leg of their current tour on April 25th at the Majestic Ventura Theater, only 45 minutes away from UCSB. I arrived shortly before doors opened with my girlfriend Avery, one of KCSB’s DJs, and concertgoers adorned in black baggy clothes and facial piercings already formed a line around the block.

The opener was synth-pop act Drab Majesty. The lights dimmed punctually at 8 o’clock and the duo came out sporting identical black tie outfits, shaggy silver hair, and dark sunglasses. Their songs featured hypnotic 80s synthesizer melodies and droning bass that shook the room. After a few minutes of this, they turned on a fog machine and the whole pit filled with smoke, lulling the audience into a dreamy haze. This created the perfect environment for Slowdive to follow up with their signature spacey, reverb-heavy sound, so when the openers finally waved goodbye everyone surged forward in anticipation of the headliners. 

After a long intermission, Slowdive finally took the stage. Dark blue lighting obscured most of the band members, except Rachel Goswell who sat at her piano with a dim yellow lamp on the keys illuminating her face. Her flowy dark dress and black/white split hair dye contrasted sharply with Neil Halstead, the other lead vocalist, who stood shyly off to the side, pairing a brown t-shirt and a baseball cap with his now signature thick mustache. This visual reminded me of Pitchfork’s documentary on the band, where the members explain that the band started when Rachel, a “goth” kid, and Neil, an “indie” kid, came together over their love of the Smiths and started writing songs despite their passion for different 80s subcultures.

 

The first half of their set was mostly tracks off their new release, “everything is alive”, with a few deep cuts off older records sprinkled in (Catch the Breeze off their debut made my day). Many tracks from their newest album felt sort of lackluster and airy to me when I tried listening before the show, but came to life in person. As you’d expect, the two guitarists and the bassist spent much of the show staring down at their pedals which helped create a full, otherworldly sound that elevated their new material. Vocalist and guitar player Neil often describes the band as possessing a particular cinematic quality, and the visual components of their set perfectly complemented that aspect of their music. The combination of colorful strobe lights and elaborate projections on the screen behind them transported me out of the beach town we were in and into outer space, especially on slow-droning tracks like Souvlaki Space Station. One particularly striking image was an animation of white lights flying toward the audience from two separate vanishing points, invoking hyperspeed from Star Wars and the hypnotizing ending of 2001 A Space Odyssey.

I enjoyed the whole performance, but the highlight of the night was undoubtedly the three-track run they closed out the main set with. Alison, When the Sun Hits, and 40 Days are all huge hits from their classic album Souvlaki, and the GA pit went crazy for them, especially screaming along to the cathartic hook of When the Sun Hits. At the start of Alison, Rachel remarked that the majority of the budget for the track’s music video was spent on booze, which got lots of laughs but also underscored how young and unaware of their future fame and impact they were when these masterpieces were casually spilling out of them back in the 90s.

 

It was strange but beautiful to see these sad songs about isolation and longing for connection in a room full of so many people. I personally fell in love with Souvlaki as a teenager in 2020 when I would take long walks on foggy evenings and play the record on repeat, dreaming of friendships and romance when both seemed impossible during the height of COVID-19. The band’s recent resurgence seems correlated with the pandemic and rise of TikTok, so I imagine many of the younger fans around me on the general admission floor have similar associations with this album and loneliness in the digital and post-pandemic age. This lively environment with other people sharing the same emotions was a much more fun and uplifting context than I had ever experienced their music before that night, and from the energy in the room, it seemed to be a sweet and emotional moment for everyone else as well.

 

 

For the encore, Avery and I decided to get some space and watch from the second level of GA. This area provided a glimpse into the other side of the fanbase, who probably knew them during their original stint of fame unlike the zoomers we were standing with during the rest of the show. Many bearded millennials surrounded us wearing skinny jeans and band tees, and directly to our right a gray-haired man in full business attire complete with a tie danced slowly, presumably having just gotten off work at a corporate job. Seeing this variety of demographics was super refreshing and put Slowdive’s longevity and timelessness into perspective.

The encore consisted of Sugar for the Pill, Dagger, and Golden Hair. Sugar for the Pill sounded stunning and brought more interesting visuals, with drawings of prescription pills on screen as well as numerous spinning geometric shapes nested inside each other. When they played Dagger I couldn’t help feeling like I was witnessing shoegaze’s version of the famous 1997 performance of  “Silver Springs” if it traded Stevie Nicks’s anger for yearning. The whole venue was transfixed, silently watching as Neil stared at Rachel from across the stage while singing the crushing breakup song he wrote about her decades earlier.

 

 As we exited the venue while they played their cover of Syd Barrett’s Golden Hair, I felt like I had gotten everything I wanted out of a Slowdive performance and had a newfound appreciation for them for sticking together so long and maintaining their artistry, relevance, and live performance chops.

 

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