Concert Reviews

Slowdive and Low at The Danforth Music Hall

Photographs by Maya Setton.

Rachel Goswell of the alternative band Slowdive sat down with Capsule earlier this month and discussed the importance Canada had to the band. She mentioned that their last show ever was at Lee’s Palace. Well, this “final show”, which only works as a stepping stone and not as the last page, was possibly something Slowdive had in mind when they returned to not just the great white north, but also to the music industry. Their fans are important, and Goswell expressed her appreciation for this never-ending growth that has occurred within the shoegaze community since the rise, end and return of the dream pop legendary act Slowdive. The Danforth Music Hall was packed to the brim with faces of old fans, new fans and those just tuning in. I recognized many people I knew, met some new fans and truly realized just how special a show of this nature was. This was the first Toronto show since the dire concluding one, and Slowdive were a dream we wish we could have had again. We surely did.

We were in bed and dozing off when Low came on and worked as the running mind we face before we dig into the vivid world of our subconscious. Low themselves are names worth noting; To open for such a return, you’d need a worthy introduction. Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and Steve Garrington came out to a minimal stage set up, dim blue lights and their emotions all over the floor. Sparhawk clenched his guitar to wrench out notes that were full of hurt. Garrington’s jewel-studded bass reflected all over the audience, and his contributions with both this instrument and his keyboard were nice touches that pulled everything together. Parker’s simplistic drumming and haunting vocals were the most effective moments. However, it was as though Parker was on the verge of tears the entire show. Her mind was elsewhere, and she channeled everything that was after her into her set. It was undeniably real, and the music was a part of her wandering thoughts.

Their Cocteau Twins-like music was relaxing but a reminder that there will always be a downside. Every song was soulful and chilling. There wasn’t much going on outside of the music. We would get a quick thanks once in a while. The lights didn’t change from blue downpours from heaven. The occasional song would have a loud guitar effect shatter the depression that was looming over us all. This was therapeutic, and a large handful of their songs had such redeeming resolutions. Those that didn’t conclude with a dose of power worked simply as mood pieces instead. With the very last note Low played, the lights went from blue to gold. They had found peace at last, and we had finally fallen into a deep slumber– our minds no longer racing. 

Slowdive came on to thunderous applause, and they were all smiles. The men looked very little like a shoegaze band aside from a Mogwai t-shirt on Nick Chaplin. Neil Halstead has a beard now that is cautiously groomed. Christian Savill donned a plaid shirt that made him look modern and fashionable. Simon Scott wore a t shirt and pants that didn’t seem to say much of a statement. The only retro looking person was Rachel Goswell who wore strawberry heels and a very 90’s green dress. This is the reality: Slowdive, as people, have moved on from their old image. However, not only did they keep every single ounce of talent that they started off with, but they could have fooled any of us if they had said they had never broken up. The music started and it was a dream come true. Every song was alive again, every person was admirable, and we can successfully say we’ve seen Slowdive at their best. They haven’t lost anything that they once had, no matter how long it’s been since they were last dominating the music scene (as an active band, of course). 

The hope that this show would be good was met with more than just a wink. It lasted for at least over an hour and a half, and the set list was made up of virtually any Slowdive dream song you could muster. The backdrop was made up of strobe lights brighter than the stars in the sky and slanted screens that showed illusions, surreal images and simply basic colours. When the strobe lights and screens were in full force, we were hit with a mind altering experience. It was the 90’s all over again, and the Souvlaki Space Station is where we went into our time traveling vehicle. This careful choice of both song and visual is proof that Slowdive damn well deserve to be known, as they have known who this always-spreading audience is and what they love even during their inactivity. 

That alone would have been worth noting, but it is impossible to comment on the band’s great return without going into just how special each and every member of the band was this night. Halstead sounds as he once did but with wisdom, and this maturity adds a new quality to the already-touching music. It’s as though songs hit harder at this show, because they felt like one’s hope for the past instead of a daydream. His guitar playing combined with Goswell’s and Savill’s was exceptional, with every strum throwing us back another ten feet. Savill’s lead lines and effect heavy playing worked as the focal point for many songs, and you could just feel the wave of magnificence about to hit you when you noticed him stepping towards his pedalboard. Chaplin’s bass was punchy, and he lost himself in the wall of amps that shouted back at him. He knew the impact that his undertones had, and he got swept up in it all like we did. Scott’s drumming was truly remarkable, and there’s no joke about his raw capabilities. His fast fills and smooth techniques, especially last night, only reminded me of how underrated he truly is.

Goswell’s angelic vocals haven’t changed at all, and she worked as a mediator both during the songs and outside of them. She honed the music to a destination when she sang, and she’d often cast the melodies to another galaxy. She smiled when dealing with many loud fans who were clearly excited to be seeing this band after all of these years. Halstead himself replied to a shout that he needed a haircut, when he commented on the fact that this heckler didn’t seem too well. With their sense of humor obviously there, Slowdive were as happy to be back as we were to have them back. They played gracefully, and the complete vulnerability found on their albums was brought to life tenfold at the Danforth Music Hall. We lived in the moment of their music as if they had never left, but we also all huddled and realized that there was a moment of time where this was not possible. We were simultaneously in the past and the present, with our fantasies still in tact and never having died. Slowdive were a dream that unfortunately had to end, and it was one that will hopefully be reoccurring. If not, at least we had a glimpse of something truly extraordinary to hold onto as life goes on: There is a Slowdive still, and they’re as beautiful as the stories had told us.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.