My Bloody Valentine's final show of a six-city North American reunion tour resembled a jet airplane, albeit a very musical one, revving on the tarmac: The engine flooded with fuel, every sound-making utility cranked to the max, but then, despite what seemed aurally possible, it kicked up one last ferocious notch.
The mostly die-hard audience sheltered Thursday night in the cavernous, semi-industrial Santa Monica Civic Auditorium -- a once-popular concert venue where David Bowie and the Beach Boys performed -- shoved their earplugs deeper into their ears and surrendered to the bliss. Or they streamed toward the exits when they worried their chests would cave in from the sound.
The last few years have been crowded with reunions, but the reclusive foursome, whose 1991 album, "Loveless," split open the shoe-gaze era with an ahead-of-its-time mix of molten guitars and honey-dazed vocals, weren't content to play their best-known hits. For starters, My Bloody Valentine was never much of a hit band. Second, what's a hit if it can't hover near annihilation?
The show launched with "I Only Said," a panoramic screen behind the band projecting intergalactic blue bubbles while Kevin Shields' high guitar part flew above the crush of sound that wavered beneath him. Bilinda Butcher cooed along, but her vocals were so low they could barely be heard.
Which didn't matter much until she got to "Only Shallow," where her voice was all but lost. The top melodic layer buckled and popped, and then lurched back and forth, and though the sheer magnitude of the guitars was beautifully daunting, a human touch like Butcher's soft voice could've been a useful counterpoint.
But maybe that's the same impulse that makes us want to see humans at the top of Mt. Everest. That conquering desire should be questioned. Maybe Mt. Everest alone should be enough.
For My Bloody Valentine, the mountain -- invincible, monumental -- came at the end of "You Made Me Realise." For all of the band's gushing sound, the open tunings and reverb-upon-reverb, the songs are actually simple. "You Made Me Realise" is case in point.
After a few verse-chorus-verse hammerings, it blew open, seismically, into a wall of sound that vibrated your clothes, your lips, the smallest hairs on your arms. Some people threw up their hands, soaking in the strobe lights. Some people stood with their eyes closed. Some started to dance, despite the total absence of rhythm, because they didn't know what else to do with those 17 minutes. Drummer Colm O Ciosoig worked furiously, but it was only physical. Nothing could get in front of the rumbling, blazing, buckling wall of sound.
And then, finally, it broke and the band resumed "You Made Me Realise." Suddenly, it sounded so easygoing yet more dangerous than ever. At any minute, it could blow up again.