For those that don't know, in 1989 a band called Slowdive slinked out of England's Thames Valley, combining the warm, effects-laden vibe of My Bloody Valentine with the woozy, unearthly vocal stylings of the Cocteau Twins. Once seemingly consigned to a critical legacy as being a poor man's MBV, critical revisionism has correctly placed them as a more unique and infuential entity than that. Rightfully so, with late career dance experimentation and the gloriously spooky last effort Pygmalion, which incidentally got them dropped from the newly Oasis-flushed Creation Records for not being "a Pop Record."
Slowdive leaders Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, along with later drummer Ian McCutcheon formed Mojave 3 (initially simply Mojave) in 1995 and have subsequently brought out several LP's of Country-folk, Surfer-Americana, and most recently the more upbeat jangle-pop of 2006's Puzzles Like You, which many consider their strongest collection yet. With this in mind it would be easy to think that a US tour would be a victory lap of sorts, but recent shows have seen the band at their most vulnerable, and with two key pieces missing. Goswell has sat this one out with an ear related illness and also former Chapterhouse guitarist Simon Rowe is conspicuously absent.
As a live proposition, Mojave have always managed to give even their quietist moments a tangible intensity, with songs unfolding slowly from initial quiet acoustics to wiry bombast that gets us as close to Slowdive's sugary, but often deafening roar as possible. Tonight it was apparent from the get-go that the band's stellar live reputation would be tested as they took the stage minus Goswell, Rowe and without their usual pedal steel addition as well. A friend from a Philly band that I didn't get the name of substituted on Goswell's harmonies and did a fair enough job, without really managing to compensate for her commanding stage presence and haunting counter-melodies to Halstead's lead vocal. Starting with more upbeat numbers like "Puzzles," opener "Truck Driving Man" and earlier work like "Some Kind Of Angel" was an inspired choice and a perfect version of "In Love With A View," a perfect blend of nostalgia for a lost love and a blaring mid song jam was responsible for one of those "nothing matters but this right now" kind of moments. From their on, the set was a roller coaster of broken strings, brilliant highs ("Bluebird Of Happiness' " shoegazing assault), crashing lows (the constant cries for Slowdive tunes drunkenly shouted from balconies), and glowing redemption in the one song encore, a beautiful version of "My Life In Art," from 2000's Excuses For Traveler's LP.
Not quite reaching their usual heights, but at least scraping them on occasion, this was a proper gig, warts and all.