By Jacqueline Howell
Lush has recently returned to the road (with a new EP of music) after a long hiatus in this long, joyous season for Shoegaze lovers that has seen some of our most beloved acts return to the road as well as a resurgence in newer Shoegaze bands forming and taking up the cause of this always underappreciated genre.
Shoegaze, of course, was coined as a derogatory term for those bands so fixed on their pedals, and, supposedly, so socially inept that they only ever saw their shoes. But The Scene that Celebrates Itself has long thrived in quiet pockets of the globe and in the quiet collections of lifelong fans, who’ve lately forged strong communities online in the social media age. And then as now, the bands who defined the genre are much more dynamic and gifted than the old school British music press would have had you believe. Shoegaze music full of reverb, sound washes, dreamy harmonies, and often female-led vocals, is both a necessary and a relevant part of the always important Alternative music scene that has mostly been marginalized (aside from a moment in the early 90s that was soon overshadowed by Brit pop and Grunge) and the recent tours of Gaze pioneers Belly, Slowdive, Mazzy Star, Ride, and now Lush have signaled a rallying cry for music, even if it’s a cry that has to compete with the braying of machine-made pop and electronic music that beats the listener into submission while Shoegaze is a caressing relief from all that corporate noise.
It must be said that the Lush show in Toronto which was part of TURF, a really great local music festival, was under attended, mostly due to a heavy rainstorm on Saturday. The same lackluster fan turnout could be observed at this June’s Cure stop this past June (reliably a stadium sell out), which saw an otherwise dedicated, setlist-time breaking stadium tour break with that plan in order to headline our Bestival Toronto with mixed results. In both cases, the issue is not the draw or the merit of the band (or the performances, which, shame on you fans if you missed them) but rather the disdain with which devotees hold outdoor music festivals in general (whether or not they’ve actually ever attended one, or seen the vast improvements in recent years). Die hard fans want to line up outside a venue all day, meeting other fans, and get to the barrier in General Admission music halls. They want to at least compete for the setlist. They want to imagine that Robert or Miki has seen them, is singing to them. They don’t want to pay for a day of acts they don’t care a whit about, and take their chances with the barrier, sound problems in the outdoors, see a truncated set, or be 20 feet from set list and security charming range. They’re wrong, but this is the general attitude.
But if you’ve been a fan of Lush for any length of time and especially from the time of their 1987 -1998 debut, and were within range of downtown Toronto last weekend, and stayed away, you missed out. It rained for hours. But in recent years of unpredictable and sometimes dangerous summer weather including extreme heat and severe, event-cancelling storms, it was a positively pleasant “English” afternoon. If covered up (in a free Indie88 poncho), all was really well. The weather was mild. And Lush was here, at last.
The band came out amidst non-stop rain and played like champions while stepping around puddles. They remained good humoured, apologizing for bringing the English weather (you have to wonder) and assuring us that once they left town in a few hours it would no doubt clear up (strangely, it did). The crowd felt like champions too, the ones who are made of stronger stuff, and the audience steadily grew over the course of the set which was actually a very respectable time for an afternoon slot (an hour and 15 minutes). Miki’s vocals were more pronounced live than on the classic recordings, and this was really enjoyable. Despite the weather the photo pit was crowded and after photographers got their first three songs, the pit was opened up to VIP guests to crowd the front like the usual rock club show, in fact, like the kind of rock club show from the old days when there was no barriers and we could touch the edge of the stage. This change seemed to have a good effect on the band- it seemed more natural for all concerned than a very spread out field of identically clad shadows with branded ponchos from one local radio station like a wall of clones.
This is a band that represents an enduring survival story, the kind that music has tragically, been known for and that signals the deep power of music to heal and to create anew, something much needed today. Having lost their original drummer, Chris, back in 1996 to suicide (putting an end to the stricken band of dear friends) it was not without careful consideration and time that the band has finally reformed due to popular demand. The new formation of Lush and the one seen at TURF in Toronto includes Justin Welch on drums (Elastica) which seems a reassuringly natural fit as the band jokes and banters easily on stage. This was a band who has earned their healing and their place in the sun, even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, who was on the rise in 1996 and it’s simply wonderful to have them back with us rain or shine. And they are a force.
The 17 song performance is chock full of stellar early gems and the very appealing new music as well, including: Downer, Out of Control, Ladykillers, Etheriel, Lit Up, Thoughtforms, Lovelife & Ladykillers (full setlist here).
The photoshoot was a bit challenging in the rain but Dave MacIntyre was there, before enjoying the entire show from the crowd as a fan.