If ever there was a music genre that should have been destined never to end up in the pristine, gentile confines of the South Bank Centre, it was shoegaze. Shoegaze belongs in dimly lit bars where under-nourished young men with lank hair mumble at their Converse trainers to music that owes too much of a debt to Pink Floyd.
So it is not without trepidation that we embark tonight upon an aural feast delivered by Hope Sandoval And The Warm Inventions, a combination of the lead singer of one-time paisley underground stalwarts Mazzy Star and My Bloody Valentine founder Colm O’Coisoig. It’s a combination from heaven or hell, depending on which side of the psych-pop noisescape fence you choose to sit.
First impressions bode well – we enter the auditorium as a woman leaves mumbling about looking for tissue to put in her ears: “They’re so loud!” But at this stage, support band Dirt Blue Gene are still on. Has no-one warned her there’s an ex-MBV to come?
All is revealed as we enter Queen Elizabeth Hall to discover that Dirt Blue Gene are in fact O’Coisoig and what turns out to be the rest of The Warm Inventions under a different guise (ie. sans Sandoval). Two guitarists, a bassist, drummer and keyboards deliver warm waves of laid back, soporific noise as O’Coisoig does a passable impression of what Robyn Hitchcock might sound like if he discovered his sonic muse and feedback.
They have a tendency to dribble too far down the guitar noodling route, but there’s nothing (too much) wrong with sounding like you’ve been raised on a diet of Neil Young mentoring The Jesus & Mary Chain except that, like all things progressive rock, it tends to go on for a bit too long and ends up being a bit too samey. Three tracks in, Dirt Blue Gene sound like great background music but, with nothing for it to provide background to, it’s time to change the record.
To be fair to them, they do, ramping it up for the final track so that the aural assault batters your heart as the wall of sonic builds up to a crashing crescendo. The gentle, folky ballad they follow this with proves they’re much more than a one-trick pony. “Shame they’ve listened to too many Pink Floyd records,” quips one wag on the way to the interval bar, as if such a thing as listening to too many Pink Floyd records could be possible.
But this is meant to be a review of Hope Sandoval, so on to the main event. Hope Sandoval is tiny, a waif-like girl-creature you can imagine being blown away by even the gentlest guitar feedback, with a voice that could drown out a tsunami. She is the perfect antidote to the stoner rock noodling O’Coisoig has just proved he will descend into if left to his own devices.
Over a video backdrop that complements the sound perfectly, they perforate the following hour with music that definitely belongs to the shoegaze genre, but here they’re shoegazing at a sequined slipper, a delicate and beautiful adjunct to the harsher walls of sound that have come before. Waves of harmonica and xylophone-drenched harmonies wash across the audience with occasional plink-plonk etherealness to it all as Sandoval taps the xylophone keys with such alluring innocence that she looks like a child in the lions’ den.
The Velvet Underground have a lot to answer for, and here and there it’s impossible not to see their influence shining through, along with all the bands Mazzy Star and My Bloody Valentine have influenced and been influenced by over the years.
Like Dirt Blue Gene before them, Hope Sandoval And The Warm Inventions let the sonics of the last-but-one song spiral out of control just so they can bring it back again and finish on a track in the lowest key ever (unless it’s just that they’ve completely destroyed the ability to hear in high register by this stage).
There’s minimum interaction with the audience, so it seems that virtually as soon as they’ve started they’ve gone, slipping out into the night to backstage whiskeys and the next leg of the tour while. Meanwhile, in another nod to the true spirit of shoegaze, back in the auditorium the guitars finally hum themselves off to sleep.