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Concert Review: Slint at the Bowery Ballroom [May 4, 2014]



Nobody checked my ticket last night at the Bowery Ballroom. I held mine out at the front entrance, but the people there were just checking IDs and giving out 21+ wristbands. At the entrance to the bar, where the tickets were actually being scanned, I simply walked right in without anyone seeing me or telling me what to do. So even though I had a ticket, I could have easily snuck into the Bowery Ballroom last night to see Slint.

Though Slint is one of my favorite bands, and Spiderland is easily in my top 30 albums of all time (I've written about the band a few times for Music Times), I was a little apprehensive about seeing the band live. I've read less-than-stellar reviews of the reunion shows, which claimed that the band is an absolute bore to watch, and that the songs don't translate very well to live performance. Since I was running the risk of seeing a dreadfully dull performance, I chose to stand right next to the stage, so at least my proximity to the band would thrill me enough if all else failed. Also, I just like standing as close as possible to the stage at every show I go to.

The opening act was a duo named Spires That in the Sunset Rise, which consisted of a flautist and a saxophonist (Kathleen Baird and Taralie Peterson), though they would occasionally switch over to keyboards or autoharp, or simply use their voices. Since there were only two performers, they made extensive use of looping and delay to fill out the sound of their pieces, which had a heavily minimalist, avant-garde bent to them. Even though they were seated, Baird and Peterson were still totally engaging performers, playing as if their souls were escaping their bodies. The limitations of live performance made the songs feel a bit repetitive after a while, but it was still unlike anything I've ever heard.

Slint followed at around 10:30. Although on record the band is a four-piece, it expands to a five-piece in a live setting, with singer/guitarist Brian McMahan playing guitar only occasionally, because the songs are presumably too complicated to play and sing (or rather speak over) at the same time. The band opened with three Spiderland songs: the ambient instrumental "For Dinner...," the soaringly dissonant "Breadcrumb Trail," and the sludgy, off-kilter "Nosferatu Man."

Though previous reports of the band lacking "stage presence" were pretty much correct, I honestly couldn't imagine how these songs could have been performed any other way. These are precise, heavily rehearsed songs, and simply seeing the band locked in together so tightly and intensely is exciting enough. If anything, seeing how Dave Pajo plays the lead riff to "Nosferatu Man" was worth the entire concert. (For any guitar players reading: it involves harmonics and some string bending above the nut.)

The one song I didn't expect to be at all interesting to watch was the drumless "Don, Aman," featuring drummer Britt Walford (who was shirtless at this point) on guitar and vocals, but I was completely wrong. Walford and Pajo coordinating their bizarre strumming patterns was the most intense performance of the night. It was like watching two actors perform a scene, as if they're playing off each other. If one of them faltered or missed a cue, the whole thing would be thrown off the rails.

After "closing" with "Good Morning, Captain" (Slint's best song), the band awkwardly left the stage for about thirty seconds before coming back for an encore. Since every song from Spiderland had already been played (and two from debut album Tweez, plus the single "Glenn"), the band treated us to a medley of unreleased songs, which were faster and less jangly than the songs from Spiderland. The fact that the band cares enough about these songs to rehearse them and play them live makes me think that there's going to be a new Slint album at some point, which I would be very excited for based on how good these songs are. 

Were you at the show? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below!

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