Slint at The Fillmore, 8/25/14 (Photo: Daniel Kielman)
Slint stopped by the Fillmore Monday night for an intimate and low-key performance for one of the closing dates of their West Coast tour, celebrating the Remastered release of their much-beloved sophomore album Spiderland. Watching them perform live could be seen as a mixed bag at first. On the positive side Slint fans get exactly what they want: Spiderland performed in its entirety (albeit broken up amongst songs from their first album Tweez, a few b-sides and an outtake), note-for-note with careful attention to detail and replicated exactly as it sounded on record. On the other hand the show is very low-energy, no flashy light effects, no variations on their songs or any new songs. But anyone who is a fan of Slint shouldn’t find this shocking. Their monumental post-rock album was never an album one necessarily rocked out to while driving home from a long day of work, but more music one listened to for the intricate guitar plucks, the interplay between instruments and the speak/sing vocals that only added to the eeriness of the record.
From the opening harmonics of second song of the night “Breadcrumb Trail” it was obvious that the audience was there for the classic album and it’s hard to argue with them. It was also at this point that Brian McMahan began trading guitar duties and the band grew from a four-piece to a five-piece, assumably because the guitar sections are too complicated to play and sing at the same time. McMahan sang into a mic on the far left side of the stage and faced the band as if he were conducting them but more likely to make sure his cues were on time. It still made for a very intense performance, the entire band replicating the classic Spiderland track down to the tiniest details.
It was also at this point that one audience member began shouting that she couldn’t hear the singer and wanted the vocals to be turned up. In between the next few songs this happened and the rest of the audience yelled back at her, making the mood somewhat unnerving as the band was still settling into their set but it didn’t seem to hinder their performance. They moved confidently through the reliable setlist they’ve been performing each night. Near the end of the show one member of the audience requested and shouted “Ron!” at the point where it would be on the setlist and resulted in one of the few moments of the night that McMahan bantered with the audience, affirming that yes, that song indeed would be next.
As the band moved back and forth between instruments, the Spiderland tracks and other songs it was clear that the hundreds of hours that Slint was known for rehearsing back in the day had paid off. Their show is the chance to see these heavily complex pieces brought to life again after years of sitting in people’s record collections, studied and pored over by ardent fans. Midway through “Washer” the crowd got excited each time McMahan approached the mic for the next sing/spoken line and they were right to be excited. The songs move slowly and carry their gloom-like presence as the band builds the tension. Whether or not you’re familiar with Spiderland it’s obvious that this is a band that has perfected their live show. There are no spastic lights at any point or wailing guitar solos, no imagery or graphics flashing on a screen in the background, just a series of somber and focused moments as the soaring sounds of the band washed over the crowd as the audience quietly took it in, hanging on to every line, often times the light casting a single hue over the band with a light fog hovering over as they remained static on stage.
One of the standout moments was during the performance of “Don, Aman” when drummer Britt Walford came out from behind his kit and joined guitarist David Pajo at the center of the stage, seated close to each other as they moved through the quieter number. As the song progressed it was clear how in sync the two guitarists were with one another, facing each other and playing the same notes and melodies but performing the completely opposite strumming pattern, a subtle effect that gives Slint their unique, full sound.
When they closed with their most popular song “Good Morning, Captain” the band was bathed in blue but carried a yellow halo over them and the audience grew in their enthusiasm as the song moved from one part to the next. Even McMahan was more animated during this number, on vocals and clearly feeling what is arguably Slint’s most powerful song. The sudden cut into the harmonics midway through were what everyone had been waiting for as the song dissolved into distortion and fuzz to end the show.
The encore consisted of “Pam” (an outtake) and “Rhoda” from the first album and most of the audience stuck around even though the Spiderland tracks had been completed It’s been 23 years since the release of that landmark album and the fact that Slint is still touring behind it and giving fans exactly what they want is a credit to their resilience and attention to detail. With the Remastered release of Spiderland earlier this year and the inclusion of the outtake it gives one hope that maybe some new material is on the way, but in the meantime getting to see the band doing what they do best is enough to keep even the most devoted Slint fan happy.