Mazzy Star @ Paradise Rock Club 11.19.13
by Ben Stas (Journalism/English), published November 26th 2013
photos by band photographer Lori Reyes (no media photo passes were approved for this tour)
In a major sense, last Tuesday’s very sold-out Mazzy Star show at the Paradise was not for me, child of the early 90s. The band’s heyday, peaking somewhere around the 1994 chart success of signature single “Fade Into You,” escaped me entirely for obvious reasons. Unlike other cases where a band’s legacy and body of work has connected with me long after the fact (tangentially Mazzy-related bands like My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive spring to mind), Mazzy Star never resonated in such a way that their long-awaited reunion was a Big Deal for me. Still, from the perspective of journalistic curiosity, and given my general fondness for gauzy, psychedelic dream-pop, this felt like an event worth witnessing.
For many others in attendance, the situation was clearly quite different. In spite of the chilly temperature, a lengthy line formed along the sidewalk leading toward the glowing Paradise marquee almost an hour before doors opened. Eager fans, most of them a good deal older than myself, chatted in excited anticipation of one of Mazzy Star’s first East Coast shows in well over a decade. Upon entry, we were all greeted with wall-to-wall signs strictly prohibiting the use of cell phones, cameras or any other recording devices during the show. If we were headed back to the 90s, we were checking our grainy Instagram coverage at the door.
The club quickly reached capacity while singer/songwriter Mariee Sioux played an early opening set. Her fingerpicked guitar and delicate voice were undeniably pretty, but her ultra-quiet demeanor left her largely drowned out by a disinterested crowd. Psychic Ills fared better as a more forceful second opener. Their droning psychedelia, complete with incense, set an effectively mellow mood.
Mood also seemed to be the anchor of the Mazzy Star set that would follow. Lit by soft blues and pastoral nighttime projections, vocalist Hope Sandoval and guitarist Dave Roback took the stage with four touring bandmates and said nary a word as they began to play. Sandoval stood next to an iron-framed shelf of tiny instruments, candles and a glass of red wine, from which she occasionally drew a harmonica or a tambourine. Her interactions with the crowd were limited to short, sharp quips about the room being cold, or the whiskey she had asked for. It wasn’t quite antagonistic, but it certainly wasn’t friendly.
For the band, the show clearly wasn’t about interaction. The exceedingly dim light situation made it difficult to see faces or make out any other details. Sandoval, Roback, a bassist who may or may not have been frequent collaborator and My Bloody Valentine member Colm Ó Cíosóig and three other musicians who supplied keyboards, drums, steel guitars and other flourishes were shapes and shadows on stage. Such a deliberately non-visual and non-interactive performance brought the focus entirely on the sound, which was by and large quite beautiful. The dreamy sweep that is Mazzy Star’s defining quality, Sandoval’s airy voice included, translated surprisingly well to a live environment. The band’s lush arrangements tastefully incorporated a sizeable group of musicians without sounding crowded. Roback’s impressively varied guitar work, which in turn boasted shoegazey fuzz, country twang and bluesy howls, was a consistent standout.
Mazzy Star are touring in support of their first LP in 17 years, Seasons of Your Day, but their setlist drew from each of their four full-lengths in equal measure. That Seasons sounds so in-line with the band’s 90s work allowed the set a sense of continuity that not all reunions and reactivations that involve new music are capable of. “California” and “In the Kingdom” didn’t sound the slightest bit out of place among the band’s back catalog, and the whole set was held together by that sense of cohesion. They played “Fade Into You,” of course, but not as a set closer or an anticipated encore. In just one of the numerous ways that Mazzy Star subverted the expectations of a 2013 reunion tour, their biggest song was played mid-set and treated with the same gravitas as the songs that preceded and followed it.
Perhaps that was the biggest takeaway from this night: when you enter a band’s carefully controlled domain, where the stage banter never comes and the occasional screen held aloft is quickly stifled by the long arm of club security, abandoning those standard expectations and immersing yourself in the atmosphere they aim to create is for the best. Sure, this show didn’t happen for me, but I appreciated its understated beauty nonetheless.