‘Never meet your heroes’ doesn’t apply when it’s Slowdive

Slowdive on stage at The Great Hall, Cardiff

Not only do the Shoegaze legends still have it, they’re achieving levels never seen before.

Verdict: Life-affirming.

Any trip back to the Great Hall at Cardiff Students Union is always a trip down memory lane for me. I practically lived next to it when I was studying at the university. The question of how they came up with such a generic name for what is one of the city’s more notable venues has often crossed my mind. It’s basically just a big room used for events when it’s not hosting gigs, hardly the hallowed ground ‘halls’ are usually supposed to denote. Indeed, its acoustics switch from incredible to iffy the moment you get stuck underneath the balconies around its edges. But, bag a good spot, and the experience is immutable.

I found Slowdive when I was a student, and as such, listening to them brings about a lot of nostalgia for my time at university. There are few better times to have a Shoegaze phase than when you’re in the novae terra of emotions that is being 20. To say their lyrics and their worldview had an impact on me would be an understatement. Within the acres of alternative rock brilliance that the nineties delivered, some of its most profoundly beautiful and moving moments dwell in their discography.

So how good can it be seeing a band who peaked 30 years ago in a student’s union? Alas, it’s not that simple; of all the bands from the decade in their reunion eras, Slowdive’s has undoubtedly felt the most necessary. It’s not just that they’ve still got it, but that they have a whole load more to say too. Their newest record Everything Is Alive – the Sourhouse #4 Album of the Year 2023 – asked many questions of where the words of love laid down in their youth have led them to, starkly addressing the immensity of time’s passing. 

Seeing them live, therefore, is something I’ve really rather built up for the best part of a fifth of my life. I had to get my outfit right – a trawl through the Shoegaze tag on Tumblr sorted me out – opting for dark knitwear, black shoes and a long winter coat. As I wait for my mate by the entrance, the parade of similarly mopey fits heading inside confirms I made the right choice. 

“Some cynics will probably lambast the younger listeners for only having found them on TikTok, or some other conspiracy theory, but trust me when I say that we were surrounded by genuine fans.”

And there comes the first surprise: this is a young audience. The 6 Music mums and dads are certainly prevalent, but they’re well outnumbered by the students. I later find out that the band are actually pulling bigger crowds now than they ever did back in the day. Some cynics will probably lambast the younger listeners for only having found them on TikTok, or some other conspiracy theory, but trust me when I say that we were surrounded by genuine fans. If I could go through so much with this band when I was their age, I highly doubt that power has been lost.

In fact, screw any arguments over what demographics are here tonight; this crowd are ecstatic. Not only is there a buzz in the lobby areas and around the merch stand, the opening act draws an incredible response. They’re called Whitelands, a terrifically charismatic four piece from London. The pairing is perfect: the new face of Shoegaze opening for one of its most beloved acts. The band dole out huge, aching riffs atop spellbinding drums, yearning vocals tying the whole package together. Not only do they ‘get’ how to make this sort of music, they offer new life to some of its stalwart characteristics.

One particular patch of the crowd lose their minds every time they end a song, taking them a little by surprise. Indeed, the four piece have a charming shyness about them, wrapped up in that new band glow. There’s a confidence about them, mind you, and with any luck, they’re well aware of just how good they sound. Their debut album has just dropped, and I’ve become really rather fond of it. Heard live, however, their material attains a wholly more moving power. If this is the sort of music you like, I implore you to see them at earliest convenience.

“The sheer scale of what is about to go down quickly comes into view; heard live, Slowdive are fucking massive.”

Even with all the positive energy in the room, I’m still a little apprehensive about actually seeing Slowdive. Yes, they sounded great at Glastonbury last year, but I was only watching on telly. Sure, the room is packed out by now, but it’s been years of romanticised listening to get me to this point, and perhaps seeing them in the flesh will drop the mystique. 

‘Never meet your heroes’? Not even slightly. The band start with the opening track from Everything Is Alive, perhaps the only cut of theirs that could be called electrifying. The sheer scale of what is about to go down quickly comes into view; heard live, Slowdive are fucking massive. Enveloping, enormous, sensory-warping sound, both carrying you individually yet also able to lift the whole building out of this realm. I don’t usually close my eyes at gigs, but I practically felt compelled to when they suddenly careen into ‘Catch The Breeze’ for their third song. It’s only one of my favourite tracks ever, dear god.

On stage, the band are backed by floor-to-ceiling visuals and enigmatic lighting, elevating their every move. On the left, Rachel Goswell provides the link between the audience and the musicians, passing her gaze across the crowd with a Galadriel-esque smile. Neil Halsted is over by us on the right, dressed in full Washington State attire, his voice as assuring and warm as ever. Chaplin and Savill cover the midfield, providing the sonic hurricane so synonymous with their style, whilst at the back, Nicholas Willes fills in on drums, just as enthralled in the band’s sound as us in the crowd. It’s an endearing experience to witness.

Where so often the new output of a band from ‘X’ number of years ago is mere filler for their classic hits, it’s not the case for Slowdive. Not only does their comeback material shimmer with the same energy as their older work, it synchronises together effortlessly, drawing new readings from everything they choose to play. ‘When The Sun Hits’ is of course the big moment of the night, but ‘Kisses’ absolutely smashes too, whilst the whole room bask in the shared beauty of all singing to ‘Alison’. 

Truthfully, they really could have ended it before the encore. I was in rapture, and nothing else in the world mattered. But they bring out a monumentally touching version of ‘Dagger’ to help close out proceedings, before covering ‘Golden Hair’, a Syd Barrett classic. His face fades in and out on the screen behind them, and I feel a little choked up. Slowdive’s enduring appeal is the simultaneous beauty and pain that fills their music, and in so directly acknowledging loss, it suddenly becomes quite the emotional cover. They aren’t done yet, either; as the final cheers die down and the band walk off stage, Brian Eno’s ‘An Ending’ reveals itself, only solidifying what a special night this has been.

“Slowdive write inherently timeless music, dealing with the ethereal and indefinable aspects of the human experience. The feelings to which only dreamy guitars will suit.”

On an Instagram post from a few weeks back, Chaplin jokingly described the band as “a load of 50+ middle aged oldies maybe a bit past our prime”. I think that’s rather too harsh. Plenty of bands touring past their ‘prime’ are still often well worth the price, at least from the ones I’ve seen. The difference with Slowdive, however, is that they still have more to offer. It still feels like they’re on an artistic journey, worthy of their reunion and more than worthy of seeing them perform. 

It begs the question of what actually counts as ‘prime’ in the first place. More often than not, that word is just a placeholder for ‘youth’. There’s no doubt that the band’s most seminal work was done back in the nineties, but it’s undeniable that their recent output has struck a chord with a new generation of fans. That’s quite an achievement when the themes of their last two albums so earnestly seek to convey what the passing of time does to us, viewing both themselves and their work through an older, aged lens. 

But then again, it’s not like the band have ever been eager to cut it amongst the pop culture of the day. Slowdive write inherently timeless music, dealing with the ethereal and indefinable aspects of the human experience. The feelings to which only dreamy guitars will suit. In that pursuit, they’re achieving levels beyond even the towering heights of their most moving cuts, and they made a cold Monday night for this reviewer one of the best he’s ever had.

Slowdive and Whitelands at The Great Hall, Cardiff, 26th February 2024

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Munro Page

Munro Page is a music blogger and former student radio host based in Cardiff, Wales. He likes: thrift stores, cooking and parrots. He dislikes: chain restaurants, the M25 and Simply Red.