At its best, the reunited underground alt-rock band Slint is like the ocean:
alternately lulling and hypnotizing as it laps at your feet, or
frighteningly powerful as it smashes into you with cascading fury.
worst -- which was about half of its 12-song, no-encore set Thursday at
Metro, the first of three sold-out shows in Chicago -- Slint is a soggy
From Duran Duran and Motley Crue to the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr., nobody
in rock stays broken up anymore, and now it's time for this Louisville, Ky.,
foursome (which expands to a quintet at points during its reunion shows) to
come back for the big cash-in.
Slint is renowned for zigging when everyone else zagged. As underground
rock turned up the volume in the late '80s and broke into the mainstream as
grunge in the early '90s, these introspective shoegazers made a fetish out
of being quiet. They only released an EP and two albums before splintering
into myriad other indie combos, and their most successful disc -- 1991's "Spiderland,"
recorded in Chicago by Brian Paulson and released on the local Touch & Go
label -- sold fewer than 50,000 copies.
Nevertheless, the band's influence endures, in the legions of
pseudo-progressive "math rock" bands that followed in its wake, as well as
in hordes of emo-punk groups enamored of its dynamic shifts and
pretentious/poetic lyrics, which are most often whispered but occasionally
shouted by vocalist Brian McMahan.
The members of Slint are well aware of the audience's respect, and they
played up their legendary status in an obnoxious and most un-indie way, with
overdone lighting (the better to illuminate their genius) and an elaborate
array of technical gear. Guitarist David Pajo, who briefly did time in
Tortoise and Billy Corgan's Zwan post-Slint, took up a third of Metro's
large stage, and he clearly enjoyed playing the role of virtuosic rock god
every bit as much as Eric Clapton or Steve Howe of Yes as he colored the
music with his serpentine riffs and squiggly drones.
Meanwhile, undeniably impressive drummer Britt Walford did his
never-ending crescendo thing at center stage, while crowded together at
stage right were McMahan, bassist Todd Cook (a ringer who wasn't in the
original group) and part-time extra guitarist Michael McMahan (another
fellow who wasn't in the initial lineup).
To be sure, there were moments of greatness, and not just for nostalgic
reasons. The group opened with "Good Morning, Captain" from "Spiderland" --
featured on the soundtrack of "Kids," it was as close to a hit as the band
ever got -- and the tune built from an ominous buzz to McMahan's climactic
wails of "I miss you!"
But too many of the other songs went nowhere, repeating the same formulas
to the point of stultifying boredom, and the pretension meter shot into the
red when the musicians sat down to render the fragile "Don, Aman," with
Walford solemnly intoning the impressionistic lines, "A plane passes
silently overhead/The streetlights, and the buds on the trees, were still."
I longed for the fellow who shouted out for "Freebird" to pipe up again.
Instead, the reverential crowd angrily shushed anyone who dared to speak,
soaking in the band as if they were receiving a sacrament. They had come to
worship at the Temple of Slint, and they would not be deterred.
At least the crowd at the Motley Crue reunion had more fun.
Opening for Slint was the Louisville quintet Verktum, which owed
all-too-obvious musical debts to the precise fury of the Jesus Lizard and
the grinding power of the God Bullies. But frontman Darren Rappa, formerly
the bassist with King Kong, lacked the menacing intensity of David Yow or
Mike Hard. The best he could muster was an annoying goofiness, and that wore
out its welcome two songs into a 40-minute set.