Slint’s apocalyptic album Spiderland has a horrific power that seems to derive from somewhere truly disturbing. But like the narrator of Heart of Darkness who witnesses the dying Kurtz uttering ‘the horror the horror’, the audience cannot see this source head on, but only feel its enveloping darkness. Indeed despite the sinister weight to Spiderland the topics are mundane teenage events like riding a roller coaster or being at a house party. And over twenty years on, another barrier seems to have formed. In that now the reunited 40-something dads, who constitute Slint, have to try to recreate the same adolescent nihilistic selves that supposedly had to be institutionalised after making the album. Indeed, the task seems pretty nihilistic.
Fortunately, the band still retained the one factor that made the music so gripping: the instrumentation. While many 90’s throwback reunions seem like only faded versions of their former personas, Slint made sure that no persona could be tainted. The vocal parts sung/spoken by Brian McMahan and Brit Walford were comfortably smothered in the background, as in Spiderland, sounding more like voices in the back of your head rather than a centrepiece. Likewise the equipment was minimal and set up halfway back from the stage, the best pointer that no one was going to be making a scene. Yet also the band didn’t try to make a Godspeed You more-apocalyptic-than-though impression. Harking back to their debut album Tweez, which was most recognised as a half-baked, but enjoyable fuckaround, jokes were cracked and smiles were exchanged. The band was definitely enjoying playing their set.
And so did the crowd. The stage was pulsing. Brian McMahan’s drumming was some of the best and loudest I’ve ever witnessed, like a hunter relentlessly beating an enormous loveable animal to a pulp. While Dave Pajo’s guitar leads showed why Slint become so indented in everyone’s head. It was almost like a re-education. Because I knew what was coming but was still dazzled at the sheer genius and simplicity of the movements- the grating chords of ‘Nosferatu Man,’ the uncalming riff of ‘Washer’. There was a period at the end of ‘Glenn’ when Pajo turned his back to the audience and went up to the amp. Then a strange cacophony of sounds came out of the guitar. His skinny figure with its back to the audience sent a visual chill of turning against the crowd in raising this of this inhumane, thrashing weight.
Likewise, the band must have still had the same pedals from recording Spiderland, because almost every horrifying sound was reproduced exactly live: the ‘drop’ on ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ and the harmonics of ‘Don Aman’. The overwhelming feeling I got was that the band was still as fascinated and confused by what they had created. And all that the members could do was create the portal to access this profane exhibition for both themselves and the audience. So there was no room to ‘improve’ on the songs or ‘jam’ to them, because that would mean that the band had some kind of control over them.
The set list ended as logical as it could, that is when it had exhausted all of Spiderland, played the best proto-Spiderland songs from Tweez as well as their single EP. The official setlist finished of course with ‘Good Morning Captain’ and it was as beautiful as expected. When McMahan sings ‘I miss you!’ you finally realise that very rarely in life can one reach such a purified energy in any line. It is the accumulation of their whole sound, screamed beyond human capacity (rumour has it he started vomiting after singing this on the album). And like a bullet ‘I miss you’ enters you and leaves a hole, and you’re left trying to figure out all over again what you had just felt.