w/Tara Jane O'Neil
Sat March 12, Showbox, 8 pm, sold out.
Fear the worst. Because bad things usually happen when good bands reunite. Even when great bands get back together, the results can make the most faithful fans cringe.
That being said, many fan hearts nearly burst when it was announced that Slint were reuniting and coming to Seattle with original members David Pajo (guitar), Brian McMahan (guitar, vocals), and Britt Walford (drums), plus Michael McMahan (guitar) and Todd Cook (bass.) Here was one mythical rock band people wouldn't mind seeing in the mortal flesh--no matter if they are rusty and fallible.
Ah, Slint. Start with the perfect name. It sounds like a slang term known only by Kentucky post-rockers, post-rock being a genre of which Slint are the epitome, the source. But, in a devastating revelation reported in Filter, Slint were named after a fish owned by Walford. Let's hope this reunion tour won't be as anticlimactic as that factoid.
Why all the fuss over a group that broke up in 1991, released less than 85 minutes of music, and whose best-selling release, Spiderland, probably went aluminum? Why would All Tomorrow's Parties execs coax Slint out of retirement this year to headline and curate their hipster festival 11 years after the band's last posthumous release (the Slint EP)? It's a combination of factors.
Slint's music infected the bloodstream of underground rock with as much potency as did the Velvet Underground's 20 years earlier. A list of bands indebted to Slint's recalibration of rock dynamics, math-PhD time signatures, and mysteriously muttered vocals could fill this page. Similarly, Slint's family tree encompasses some of indie rock's most important branches: Tortoise, Palace, Squirrel Bait, Breeders, Aerial M, and, uh, Zwan.
The band were emo long before Dashboard Confessional was out of short pants, but they were understated and cryptic with their heartfelt outbursts. Slint invested their knotty arrangements and abrasive/gorgeous instrumentation with a Midnight Cowboy poignancy.
They also had mystique. Most people only had seen Slint as four heads floating in a Kentucky quarry on Spiderland's cover. Listeners pondered the band's sparsely adorned black-and-white covers as if they were runes bearing secrets.
The Slint intrigue begins with the brilliantly flawed debut, Tweez (1988; reissued 1993). The mini-album finds the band struggling with their Steve Albini worship, even as the Big Black/Rapeman icon works the boards for them. Tweez starts with a slack-jawed "Oh, uh, all right," before a triumphantly sulphurous guitar fanfare starts. McMahan complains about the headphones to Albini while the controlled fury of "Ron" rages around him. What a strange, exhilarating kickoff. The disc's best track, "Kent," begins with McMahan gulping liquid before a lurching approximation of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" swings into gear. The Novocained lines, "Don't worry about me/I've got a bed/I've got a Christmas tree inside my head" have haunted me for years, as has Pajo's alien-tuned guitar miasma.
Spiderland (1991, produced by Brian Paulson) has become a canonical work loved by critics, musicians, and heads worldwide. But instead of causing paradigm shifts (and shifting millions) in mainstream music, Spiderland inspired countless indie bands to rock mathematically and enigmatically. Here Slint formed a new kind of minimalism--stark, stoic, gray, grim--that's as mesmerizing as watching a cement mixer's innards. This 39-minute masterwork spurred musicians to forgo easy options and to choose the gnarled path to bright, brawny-dude sonic satori. Some succeeded, many failed, as the Slint way is fraught with difficulties… difficulties that continue to revolutionize indie rock today.
Five Slint-y Things to Say to Prove Your Utter Coolness
1. Slint recorded Spiderland in four days--the same amount of time it took My Bloody Valentine to EQ the snares on "Soon."
2. Slint's first gig occurred at a Unitarian church service. (I have a bootleg of this performance, suckers.)
3. In 1991, Polly Jean Harvey answered a call for female vocalists that ran in Spiderland's inner sleeve. Alas, Slint had split by that point.
4. Walford had a band tryout with Gavin Rossdale (of Bush), but it didn't work out. Whew.