Slowdive reveals many hues (and a few cries) at the Wiltern

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Slowdive at the Wiltern (Photo by Roy Jurgens)
Slowdive at the Wiltern (Photo by Roy Jurgens)

In terms of physics, sound is a series of vibrations represented by an audible wave of pressure, transmitted through a medium such as a gas, liquid or solid. To humans, sound is the brain receiving and perceiving those vibrating waves. Occasionally, sound takes on properties other than those defined by hard science. Slowdive are masters at creating such properties, such as color and depth and texture and yes, emotion, which they conjured at the Wiltern on Sunday night.

Taking the stage to Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Day,” the band — returning to L.A. after a stellar turn at FYF Fest in July — gently eased into “Slomo,” the lead track off their self-titled latest album and from there reached back to 1991 to “Slowdive,” closing a 26-year span of creativity.

You want more details or a setlist? Sorry, I was in a transcendental state, veering between states of consciousness and dreamscape, all without the aid of chemical enhancements. A Slowdive performance isn’t so much about their individual songs as they are about experiencing an ethereal mood while being soothed of every occurrence in the outside world. For 90 minutes the crowd of old and young (many not born when 1995’s “Pygmalian” was released) were enveloped in a gorgeous sanctuary of peace and solace, as many among the swaying were listening with their eyes closed. A Slowdive performance isn’t big on rock ’n’ roll theatrics, nor do they have a spectacular light show, but they do provide a really good hit of aural opiates. 

It was the loss of label support as well as the breaking down of intimacies between guitarist and main songwriter Neil Halstead and the rest of the band which led to Slowdive’s demise in 1995. While they made their return as country tinged Mohave 3 shortly thereafter, gone was the lush palette of sound that made them such an important band within the shoegaze genre. Yet hearing Halstead and Rachel Goswell harmonize some 22 years later, one gets the understanding that certain voices are meant to be together harmoniously, regardless of romantic entanglements, or lack thereof. Also remarkable is that all members, Halstead (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Goswell (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Christian Savill (guitar), Nick Chaplin (bass), and Simon Scott (drums, electronics) have returned to the fold for that self-titled 2017 release and tour. The new tracks, highlights being the driving “Star Roving” and the dreamy “Sugar for the Pill,” nested beautifully within the set next to favorites “Alison,” and “Souvlaki Space Station.”

It is interesting how time (or groupthink) changes opinion. In the early ’90s Slowdive were quite often savaged by the music press, which preferred Britpop and grunge to the shimmering dreampop produced by the Reading natives. Fast forward to 2017 and the room is full of hipsters, a fawning press and KCRW illuminati are on board. 

Sunday’s show carried the particularly bizarre occurrence of people hurriedly checking their phones between songs. And what might have so many Slowdive fans been so interested in that it would wrestle them out of their trance-like state? Well, one slugfest of a World Series game that had gone to extra innings, that’s what. As they played their last song of the show, “40 days,” the stage lights alternated between Dodger blue and Astros orange, replicating the lead changes taking place 1,500 miles way. Alas, true to life and to the dismay of many, Slowdive left a brightly lit orange stage.