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LIVE: Slowdive / Whitelands – Birmingham 02 Institute, 18/02/2024

Back in 1991, the tour for Slowdive’s first album, Just For A Day, brought them to this very room in Digbeth, an area home to many of Birmingham’s great venues. Just over three years (and two further albums) later and the band was done; the shoegaze scene obliterated by Britpop in the mid-90s. It would have been difficult at that time to envisage that over three decades later, the venue would be packed to the rafters with an audience of which a generous proportion would not have even been born first time around. Thanks to excellent nu-gaze bands like Nothing, Whirr and Anne, not to mention the eventual return of My Bloody Valentine, the appetite for the sonic dreamland of shoegaze has been steadily growing over the last decade or so, and bands like Slowdive and Ride have come roaring back to find that, happily, they are more popular than ever, playing huge shows all over the world.

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Whitelands, a two-piece now grown into a four-piece band from Hayes, Middlesex, are an extremely astute choice of support for this evening; the venue is already very full when they appear and after taking a quick straw poll of how many in the crowd already knew them (not many), they begin to work on the amount who will like them after 30 minutes has passed (everybody!). Their sound is clearly influenced by tonight’s headliners but they are no mere copycats; Whitelands add their own personality (they are far chattier than your average shoegazers, for a start!) and their own take on the genre. Drummer Jagun initiates most of the audience interaction and adds backing vocals to the lead vocals of his fellow forming member, Etienne. ‘Setting Sun’, the opening track from their new album, Night-Bound Eyes Are Blind To The Day (out this Friday, folks!) is an upbeat delight while recent single ‘Tell Me About It’ has a wonderful Blue Bell Knoll-era Cocteau Twins kind of feel to it, Michael’s guitar textures perfectly complementing the pristine bass of Vanessa. In a couple of hours, they will be doing quite well on their merch stand, surrounded by new fans!

One of the greatest ‘between bands’ playlists ever heard, (The Go-Betweens, Stereolab and even an early OMD album track), has me checking that I wasn’t in fact DJ-ing myself without realising, and then Slowdive appear from the shadows to the strains of Brian Eno’s ‘Deep Blue Day’ to an absolute heroes’ welcome and begin with ‘shanty’, the extraordinary opener of last Autumn’s everything is alive. There is such immediate warmth towards the band that they can barely stop themselves from beaming at the reaction and the six-minute, mesmerising song flashes by; no-one here would have minded if it had lasted fifteen. The twin vocals of Rachel Goswell and Neal Halstead are still sublime, (they also worked to great effect in Mojave 3, the extremely underrated band formed by members of Slowdive in the long period between the third and fourth albums).

’Star Roving’ the band’s ‘comeback’ single from 2017’s eponymous fourth album raises the temperature, and indeed tempo; there are by now even people jumping up and down at the front (that didn’t happen in 1991)! It’s interesting to see that the post-reformation material is arguably the best-received. It’s also arguably the best music that Slowdive have ever released (as well as the most successful in terms of sales and chart positions). The delicate ‘Catch The Breeze’ (the band’s biggest hit, and joint oldest song played tonight) is given a slightly more muscular treatment before another from the newest record, the excellent ‘skin in the game’.

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There’s one track from the band’s third record, the more experimental (and in recent times, critically re-evaluated) Pygmalion – the record’s stand out track, ‘Crazy For You’. The more ambient feel is retained for ‘Souvlaki Space Station’, the almost-title track of second album Souvlaki. That album will provide five songs tonight including, later, a triumphant run through its lead single Alison, probably the most potentially chart-friendly single the group released (it was actually the lead track on the Outside Your Room EP but also on the album).

The band leaves the stage after another Souvlaki favourite, ‘40 Days’ to huge applause and pleas for an encore. They return to deliver another three songs, including the beautiful ‘Sugar For The Pill’ from that 2017 comeback record and then ending with a tender Syd Barrett cover that first appeared on their 1991 Holding Our Breath E.P., ‘Golden Hair’.

Tonight, Slowdive have relished their role as returning heroes and appear stronger and better than ever. Their re-emergence will hopefully be a permanent one.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.