I am a huge admirer of, what a good friend of mine calls, “that sad dreamy shit,” which includes such bands as Red House Painters, the Cocteau Twins, and iconic shoegaze band, Slowdive. These are bands I cherish because between the ears of my headphones, I am at one with whatever my damn-weird thoughts are, and from there it gets personal. The way music can be sometimes.
This past week, your Facebook feed was probably blowing up with people freaking out that Sleater-Keaney were coming back. For me, that lose-my-shit-90s-band-is-back happened last year when Slowdive said that they would be going on an extensive tour. I seriously considered flying somewhere to catch a show, but I was reminded, they’ll be in New York eventually. They had to come to New York.
Well, they did eventually make an announcement that they would be touring North America. They would be in New York, and it would be at Terminal 5, a place I’ve managed to avoid for many years by simply selling my ticket or just skipping the show.
This time, I had no choice. It was a Saturday, and that worked best for me and my other Slowdive-loving friend. I figured I would make it work, because I was waiting so long I had to make it work.
With tickets secured to the sold out event, this concert became one of those bigger-than events, the times in my life where I build up anticipation and those anticipations lead to expectations, realizing that sometimes listening to a song like “Altogether” makes me tear up, and, holy shit, soon I will be in the presence of the very people who made this song that stirs so much drippy emotion in me.
Those anticipation reserves lasted up until, and I can tell you the exact moment, opening band Low finished their tightly performed set at twenty to 9 PM on Saturday, October 25, 2014. The moment their set lights went up, the bar-dwellers in the back rushed the stage.
In Terminal 5, surrounded by 3,000 people, a concert never felt less communal, less real, than this one. My view of the band began more towards the front of the crowd, Rachel Goswell’s voice an actual presence calling out above me. I battled to even hear her as people talked to each other, a couple making out took over my space, and people fidgeted to spots as others left. I struggled to see anything above my head as attendees raised a wall of phones high in the air.
I tried retreating towards the back, where Cool Dad had smartly moved, but it was worse back there, where people didn’t even bother to whisper, but treat the band’s sound like an inconvenience to their really mundane small talk conversations, eyes glazed as they checked in on Facebook.
By the time the band got to “She Calls,” my friend and I had traversed the entire place trying to find that “sweet spot” – the one where people aren’t talking, aren’t on their phones, aren’t leaving for drinks and coming back. A few more restless moves, and we had found a safe space in time for such personal favorites as “Dagger,” and “Alison.” I was finally comfortable enough to let my worries go, but by then I was exhausted.
This review isn’t meant to lash out at fans of Slowdive, or the band itself who sounded hauntingly unreal (and, surprising to me, way less hazy than their recorded material), and have no control over how their audience acts or the limits of the venue itself. This is an account of the night I decided I am not returning to Terminal 5. The only thing that could bring me back again is if Kate Bush herself decided to play there, which would never happen.
A place like Terminal 5 isn’t about music, it’s about money, about an atmosphere that encourages people to just keep buying drinks, a bar first and a venue second. It’s so large that people just lose all sense of the fact that other people are there for the band they paid to see. The sound is notoriously bad, especially depending on where you end up standing.
Maybe I’m spoiled by the small but quality shows back in Asbury Park (and thank you touring bands for often not skipping us over), and maybe it’s just Terminal 5 itself, but concerts of this size are not concerts to me but a space that challenges all of your senses to their limits. They turn what I love, live music, into a chore.
I did not hear or see much of Slowdive throughout the night, but I realized I never really needed to see them live, to know I love them. Seeing them live was just a bonus to the albums I go back to time and again in the space between my headphones.