My Bloody Valentine, Roundhouse, London

Roundhouse, London

Every legendary band that reforms has something to lose, but My Bloody Valentine may have more to lose than most. Quite aside from their last two albums and four singles - two hours of music that still exert a startling level of influence over guitar rock - their reputation rests on two legends: the one about their leader Kevin Shields nearly bankrupting their record label while making their 1991 album Loveless, and the one about their live performances being agonisingly, dangerously loud.

There have been periodic attempts to deflate the myth. Most recently, their former record label boss Alan McGee gamely attempted to convince the world that My Bloody Valentine were a "joke" and the really important avant-guitar band were MBV copyists Ride: a nice try, somewhat akin to suggesting that we forget the Beatles because Herman's Hermits were the real talents in the 60s.

The mythology of their gigs is more pervasive, because there is barely any footage, and the bootleg recordings reveal nothing but sludge. Thus it is that people seem excited, rather than concerned, about the fact that tonight, 16 years on from their last tour, earplugs are being handed out on the door. This turns out to be more than affectation. The mix renders Shields' vocals completely inaudible, removing the keen sense of melody that made My Bloody Valentine's records so simultaneously appealing and disturbing: there are fantastic tunes lurking beneath the fog of guitars, but you would have no idea on the basis of tonight's show.

It is a major loss, but what is left is still overwhelming. The churning chord sequences happen at such volume, it is literally impossible to remain unmoved: your body physically shakes with every note. Performing essentially the same set as on their final tour, the band appear to have been preserved in amber for the last 16 years. The members look exactly the same: a veritable advert for the invigorating properties of doing virtually nothing. Shields and fellow guitarist/vocalist Belinda Butcher stand motionless and impassive, while bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm O'Ciosoig are a relative blur of activity.

The night ends with You Made Me Realise, the 1988 single that famously contains 40 seconds of screaming noise instead of a middle-eight. Tonight, it lasts 20 minutes: if you tentatively remove an earplug, it is like being punched in the side of the head.

Afterwards, the audience lurch out of the venue, shellshocked. It is hard not to feel that some of My Bloody Valentine's essence has been trampled. But on volume alone, it is equally hard not to feel that the reality has lived up to the myth.

· At Manchester Apollo, (0870 401 8000) on Saturday and Sunday. Then touring.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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