So I went to see Slint last night. For those who don’t know, Slint is an almost unbelievably influential band whose two albums, Tweez and Spiderland, released in 1988 and 1991 respectively, are to post-rock and math-rock and such what In the Court of the Crimson King was to prog. I’ve only heard Spiderland and the self-titled EP the band released after a brief reformation in 1994; my thoughts on them are basically that while they clearly lay the groundwork for a vast array of bands — the sound of groups like Tortoise, Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and even groups like Neurosis, would be completely different were it not for Slint, if they existed at all — the latter-day post-rock bands are better. Spiderland sounds like primitive post-rock, which, I suppose, is what it is, coming some 6-7 years before the major wave of post-rock bands first hit.
Anyway, the band decided to go on a reunion tour this spring, which seems strange given that they are not releasing a new album and are not planning on any more shows after this tour. Smells like a cash cow. But it’s a welcome one — as long as the shows are good, I don’t really care what the motivation is. And the show was good.
Given that there’s no new album coming and this is a one-shot deal, it’s not surprising that the band didn’t play any new material. But they did play for a solid 90 minutes, and played every song off of Spiderland and the EP, and some stuff, presumably from Tweez, that I didn’t recognize. Unfortunately they started the show with what I strongly believe is their best song, “Good Morning, Captain,” which was so damn good that everything that came after it was inevitably anticlimactic. In fact, a good deal of their material is actually a little boring: while Slint were perhaps one of originators of the “post-rock” style of repetitive, soft-loud-soft-loud cinematic rock music, and do those things quite well, what they don’t do quite as well is offer much sense of compositional movement. Their more mediocre pieces tend to be, well, repetitive soft-loud-soft-loud exercises that don’t go anywhere, don’t really change from beginning to end except for getting really loud and then really soft a couple times.
In this sense, bands like Mogwai have clearly built on Slint’s methods in a way that Slint themselves were never able to. But it’s hard to fault them for that — after all, Mogwai didn’t even exist until over a decade after Slint formed. And Slint’s material is strong enough that even 14 years after Spiderland, the best of it still sounds fresh. The better pieces from that album absolutely smoked in a live setting, in large part simply because the massive volume levels made all those dynamic shifts that much more dramatic. Most importantly, the band was incredibly tight (and the drummer in particular was sick!), playing through tricky rhythms and abrupt thematic hairpin turns with an ease that belied their 14-year hiatus.
As a show taken on its own merits, Slint’s was pretty good, but left a lot of people bored. The endless repetition and total lack of stage presence (between every song were a couple minutes of total silence in which the band pointedly ignored the crowd) seemed to turn off fans who were probably caught up in the hype of the band’s reformation but didn’t actually know what to expect from them. But as an occasion to revisit a historical body of work, a collection of songs that have influenced a jaw-dropping array of bands in the years hence, Slint’s show was a delight.