Slowdive live at The Caverns in Pelham, TN: Gauzy shoegaze goodness

Shoegaze legends Slowdive gave a transcendent performance in Pelham, Tennessee’s The Caverns, delivering reverb-drenched classics and sprightly new cuts with aplomb.
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As I drove headlong into a truly apocalyptic-looking stormfront in middle Tennessee, during which I received a notification that the area was under a tornado warning, I began to question whether going to a music show was really worth it.

Of course, the show in question was legendary shoegaze band Slowdive in a venue called The Caverns, which is actually a natural cave in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee, so the answer was unabashed “yes.”

As singer, guitarist, and keyboardist Rachel Goswell assuaged the audience frequently: “We’re likely in the safest place we can be,” referring to the torrential deluge and hellish winds occurring outside while we were all safely ensconced within the Earth.

Shoegaze legends Slowdive delivered a majestic performance

With a swift set from opener Drab Kingdom, an interesting electronic-leaning dream pop duo, Slowdive launched into their set with “Slomo,” which was the first track from the band’s first studio album in over 20 years – 2017’s Slowdive.

A bit of a quieter number and switching up somewhat from other recent shows’ setlists, “Slomo” helped to warm the crowd up for the number to follow: the far more electronic-leaning “shanty” from 2023’s everything is alive. This rather lengthy number allowed the group to spread their wings a bit, as the song builds slowly until the group’s billowing clouds of feedback and reverb fully enveloped the enthralled audience.

Following that up was “Star Roving” a brilliantly motoric number from Slowdive with an absolute killer guitar riff. Noticing the band’s stage setup, it was not lead singer and writer Neil Halstead front and center – as one would expect – but rather bassist Nick Chaplin, who, along with Goswell, Halstead, and second guitarist Christian Savill, have been with the group since their founding in 1989.

Chaplin is flanked by Halstead on stage right and Goswell and Savill on stage left. While this might sound like an unusual layout, it’s actually rather fitting for Slowdive, whose music swathes you in a warm cocoon of guitar washes and (on more recent albums) burbling, soothing synthesizer tones – all underpinned by a strong rhythmic sensibility held down by Chaplin and drummer Simon Scott, who might be the unsung hero of the band. His steady, heady playing perfectly matched whatever song was being performed and each song was chock-full of interesting, inventive drum fills.

Debut album standout “Catch the Breeze” followed, then came another everything is alive cut: “skin in the game.” This moody midtempo number brought a hush over the crowd, as Halstead’s voice smoothly crooned the chorus alongside ethereal backing vocals from Goswell. Perhaps the most crucial element of the band’s success is that pairing: Halstead’s and Goswell’s voices together make for an incredible combination – and one that has been unhindered by the ravages of time.

While Halstead’s voice has gone from a pleasantly nasally whine in the band’s early stages to a somewhat muted and gruff croon today, Goswell’s otherworldly tones hover above the haze of the band’s instrumentals, perfectly befitting the swirling storm outside the underground hideaway we all were sharing.

Next up was the only track from 1995’s Pygmalion featured during the set: “Crazy for You.” This hypnotic and opaque track might’ve received the most rapturous response from fans, as this album is easily the band’s most experimental and unusual. This song as well, was likely quite difficult to reproduce live, as its time signature seems to be always shifting, and the vocals and instrumentation always seems to be collapsing in on itself. A spellbinding rendition of a terrific track.

Another fan favorite followed in “Souvlaki Space Station,” from the group’s seminal shoegaze classic Souvlaki. Jazzy chords led into a rush of sounds representing an astral excursion – heavily delayed and reverbed slide guitar and sharp, feedback-addled guitar lines all held together by a thudding bassline and rather exploratory drum work from Scott.

Two everything is alive tracks followed with “chained to a cloud” and “kisses”. “Chained to a cloud” is reminiscent of some of the vocal effects found on Pygmalion, and the back-and-forth lead vocals from Halstead and Goswell are, as always, riveting. “Kisses” is among the poppiest songs the group has ever recorded, but the band’s trademark sonic elements mean that it’s a pop number that might actually be nice to hear on the radio, as it’s engaging and still feels like a capital-S Slowdive track.

The main set concluded with three numbers from the band’s most revered album Souvlaki: “Alison,” “When the Sun Hits” and “40 Days.” All three were show-stopping numbers and were massive fan favorites. I personally would have ended with “When the Sun Hits,” as its soft-to-loud dynamics and spidery guitar lines at the beginning lead to a cacophonous climax that would have been hard to top.

The band’s encore featured a single release from the Slowdive album “Sugar for the Pill,” another highly poppy number (at least for a Slowdive track), the torch song “Dagger” from Souvlaki (an incredible rendition), and “Golden Hair” a Syd Barrett cover that the group recorded during their debut album sessions.

While the entire show was a truly astounding experience, especially considering the dire circumstances surrounding the weather outside, it was when the group played “When the Sun Hits,” that it truly felt like a transcendent experience, and perhaps that was due to the acoustics of The Caverns.

To enjoy a Slowdive song, you don’t necessarily need to hear the lyrics. Sometimes the words are deliberately obscured and other times they’re simply lower in the mix than the instruments – a shoegaze genre staple.

Since The Caverns' acoustics are already incredibly reverb-heavy, due to, you know, being in a cave deep under the Earth, the added natural reverb from the venue actually augmented and perfectly complemented the music that was being played.

The layer upon layers of reverbed and delayed guitar, synthesizer wobbles, throbbing bass, and steady, cleverly rhythmic drumming was an intoxicating combination, and that meant that Slowdive were the perfect band to play one of the most interesting venues in the world.

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