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Live Review: Slowdive @ Forum Melbourne

24 July 2023 | 11:30 am | Andy Hazel

Slowdive won over a packed audience at Melbourne's Forum on a Saturday night, delivering victory lap after victory lap.

Slowdive @ Forum Melbourne

Slowdive @ Forum Melbourne (Credit: Andy Hazel)

Long before we hear the colossal opening chords of support act Flyying Colours, the Forum Theatre is packed. Unlike tours of other shoegaze and nineties icons, what is immediately noticeable is that this is a much younger and more diverse crowd. One quality a lot of them share is a vocal appreciation of the three-piece on stage. Minus their bassist, Flyying Colours use backing tracks to augment what is already a huge sound.

Guitars that never get out of landscape mode, colossal drums and warm propulsive bass with vocals that peak out of the tsunami of sound is a combination familiar to everyone here. The ingenuity Flyying Colours bring is what makes them one of the country’s best bands right now, and with an album as strong as 2023’s You Never Know, it would be hard for them to build a weak set. Standouts of this one include I Live in a Small Town, which moves with an almost malevolent intent, Goodbye to Music sounds even more poignant under the venue’s star-speckled ultramarine roof and the superlative Bright Lights and Modern Dreams get the biggest reactions tonight.

It’s a short, spectacular set from exactly the right opening act. Their show on August 26 at the Night Cat feels almost mandatory.

Walking out to the ethereal strains of Brian Eno’s Deep Blue Day, the five-piece assemble themselves across the stage. Heads turn to singer and chief songwriter Neil Halstead, curling locks mushrooming from beneath a baseball cap, and the band launch into one of the highlights of their 2017 self-titled album, Slomo. Behind them, a screen springs to life, and intuitively programmed moving patterns of light and shape match the energy of the music. Simon Scott’s precise, warmly-mixed drumming, Nick Chaplin’s bright and moody bass, Rachel Goswell’s stunning voice and textured keyboards and the too-much-conditioner feel of Halstead and Christian Savill’s guitars. Slowdive has already won us over. From here on, it’s victory lap after victory lap.

“Thank you. It’s very nice to finally be here,” says Goswell referring to April’s Daydream Festival, which they were forced to cancel at short notice. Any disappointment has been long banished; it’s hard to imagine these songs sounding better on a grey evening between Tropical Fuck Storm and Modest Mouse. We get both tracks from the band’s first release, a self-titled EP, Slowdive and its hypnotically euphoric B-side Avalyn, the song that famously brought cynical English music journalists to tears when they played it as teenagers.

Goswell wears a gossamer-thin cape and moves like someone having a really good time in a coven, her voice growing in grace and power as the set progresses. Scott prowls the stage with his low-slung bass, bringing a noirish kineticism to the show. Catch The Breeze, Star Roving, Crazy For You, and Souvlaki Space Station are mid-set highlights and continue that feeling of swimming with the current of a river, a sensation echoed by the videos behind the band.

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It’s not just the spaces these songs make and how the indistinct vocals and clouds of guitar leave space for the listener to fill them with their own experiences, but how they allow for a sense of timelessness. Even as many songs rely on guitar effects of the late 1980s, they still sound incredible on headphones, and especially here tonight. Songs like Alison, Blue Skied an’ Clear and When the Sun Hits sound faster and rawer than in the memory, partly due to the guitars being quieter and the bass brighter and more powerful than on their recorded versions and in previous concerts.

“We love you, Rachel!” Comes the common refrain from various crowd members throughout the show. “Thank you,” she replies politely as the ping-ponging chords from Sugar For The Pill fade away. “Hopefully, we will be back again soon. It really is so wonderful to be here.” Curiously, the weakness and shallowness of their new single, Kisses, serves to make the songs around it, the mesmeric (and still unreleased) Sleep and the similarly titanic Golden Hair, even more majestic.

After long and passionate calls from the crowd, Slowdive return to the stage to play faultless versions of Dagger and 40 Days before leaving for one last time, letting their guitars feedback and echo together in sublime harmonies.