Concert review: Slowdive w/ Drab Majesty | 05.04.24, The Pageant (with photo gallery)

Photo of Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell by Bryan J. Sutter

There are very few second or third chances in the music industry, and very few of those chances are properly made good on. Slowdive, once a hated band savaged by the then-very-influential British music press in the early ’90s, called it quits not long after releasing their record Pygmalion in 1995, an ambitious bit of shoegaze that failed to find an audience or even basic support from the band’s label. Over the years, Slowdive joined a number of indie bands from that era that gained a sort of godlike cult status, with an influence that can be felt even in the modern day in bands like Beach House and Hotline TNT. However, unlike REFUSED or the Pixies, when Slowdive released their first new bit of music after reforming, it was actually good and didn’t come off as a cheap photocopy of their legacy. Their 2017 self-titled album asserted that, yes, your friends with cool haircuts were right and pretentious music journalists were wrong.

It is, perhaps, no surprise that the band’s first show in St. Louis sold out The Pageant.

If you like your gothwave to have a healthy influence from bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode, openers Drab Majesty will probably be your thing. The LA duo of Deb Demure and Mona D, clad in platinum wigs and silver face paint, had no problem connecting with the crowd. Modulated guitar and chewy bass patches were in no short supply here, one of those sets that ended up being 100% pure vibes. Their 2023 EP An Object in Motion has, to put it plainly, some lovely musicianship all over it, plus a very cool feature from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell.

Slowdive were greeted by quite a bit of applause and excitement from the sold-out crowd as they took their place on stage. Kicking off the night with “shanty,” the first track off of their latest record everything is alive, I found myself a little surprised just how many young faces I saw on the dance floor. If I was in grade school when Slowdive broke up, most of them weren’t even born. Their energy and enthusiasm were well appreciated, though, and it was not hard to catch Rachel Goswell with a subtle, gentle smile in response. Aside from bassist Nick Chaplin, who was in constant motion for most of the evening, the rest of the band was much more stoic, but there was a vibe from that stage that implied that there was still a rush to be found in performing older, now classic, songs like “When the Sun Hits” and “Souvlaki Space Station” in front of new people in a new town.

Of course, this is not a nostalgia act better suited for whatever is the hip equivalent to a Branson theater. We’ve been blessed with two incredibly enjoyable Slowdive records since they’ve gotten back together. The room lit up as the first notes of “Kisses,” an easy favorite found on everything is alive, rang out. I could not help but notice the young couple in front of me having a cute moment during the first verse. The song perfectly encapsulates that sense of inescapable, youthful ennui found in so much of Slowdive’s catalog. Goswell and guitarist/singer Neil Halstead’s vocals cut through cleaner on the live mix than on wax, but were still sufficiently drenched in reverb for that dreamy quality. In fact, the band never felt overwhelming to listen to, even in their most intense moments. Admittedly, there were times I felt like maybe I had reached my fill, but a few moments later I would be brought back in completely as a song moved from one part to another. Once or twice, I looked at the crowd by the soundboard, awash in the stage light, and saw many faces completely in awe as the band came together to create a mind-shattering shimmer of guitars, synth, drums, and bass.

No moment perhaps encapsulated this more than when Slowdive closed out their three-song encore with a cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair.” It is one of the wilder covers of any song I have ever heard, taking a relatively straightforward (at least by Barrett’s standards) composition and turning it into something else. An insane buildup of sound, moving forward and forward, you could feel every member of the band trying to get everything they could out of themselves and their instruments, the sort of thing that causes your stomach to get tight like right before the first big drop on a rollercoaster. Then, as if someone hit a switch, it was over. Halstead said some kind words to the crowd, and soon the stage was empty and the house lights returned.

As I began to exit the venue, I noticed the crowd being quieter than usual at this part of a concert. It was not a negative energy, but one of contemplation that one may have after a good meal. There was something on stage, most likely an effects pedal, self-oscillating. It reminded me of a singing bowl struck before meditation. | Bryan J. Sutter

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