Mill City Nights, Minneapolis
Sunday, May 11, 2014
In 1989, a band called Slint stopped in Minneapolis to play a show. They were still teenagers. Two years later, Slint would release the album Spiderland, a work that came to be widely credited as the birth of post-rock. Last night, Slint returned to Minneapolis after 25 years to grace the stage at Mill City Nights. There was an odd kind of magic in the air. Their performance was surprisingly tight.
While they have played together sporadically at the behest of festival promoters, this tour hallmarks the recent reissue of Spiderland as a deluxe box set including a documentary and limited edition book. Still, they have no plans of recording or releasing any new material. The innovative body of work that they created within their band's short lifespan was enough in itself to draw a full crowd out to the venue on a Sunday night.
Opener Wrekmeister Harmonies set an appropriate tone for the evening. Bathed in muted lights, he sat alone onstage. His long gray hair appeared to be almost translucent under the pale glow. He played his guitar with his entire body, creating a sprawling web of feedback as notes swallowed one another.
Named after the Bela Tarr movie Werckmeister Harmonies, the project is an experimental music collective led by JR Robinson, the sole representative of the collective to join Slint on their tour. Robinson dances between several musical ideas, incorporating elements of drone, post-rock, and metal. He is known for bringing together revered black metal and experimental musicians to perform compositions, typically in museums or other unconventional venues. This completes the circle back to where he began: recording sonic templates in museums throughout the US and Europe.
Robinson's deep voice occasionally burst into an anguished howl as he plucked his guitar, creating a dreadful lullaby. What began as a whisper would increase in volume until meeting its end in a scornful cry. Against a backdrop of droning electronic rumbles of thunder, he built his songs slowly, adding an emotional charge to the air. The sense of impending doom never ceased to dispel until the very end of his set, where the sound exploded into a cacophony of guitar chords.
Without any sort of introduction, or any words to the audience, Slint began their set. People stood still as death, some heads tentatively nodding to the opening bars of "For Dinner." Yet after the song, they erupted into enthusiastic applause. Singer Brian McMahan leaned casually up against the wall. He finally spoke. "Last time we played in this town, it was 1989." Then the band immediately launched into "Breadcrumb Trail."
Illuminated by pink light, McMahan bounced to Walford's drumming as he orated the song's verses, then broke into the tortured yell of the chorus. "Breadcrumb Trail" has a sensation similar to moving back and forth from an empty night into a brittle dawn, over and over. All of Slint's music provokes a feeling of traveling through equally dense and sparse landscapes, packed with emotion: triumphs, regrets, love lost.
A few songs in now, the audience had begun to move more aggressively. Yet between each song there was relative silence. Mill City Nights felt smaller and more intimate than its size due to the climate created by those in attendance. All seemed to be drunk on Slint, or were perhaps experience great moments of nostalgia. Indeed an entire generation was born and grew into their twenties in the time that Spiderland has existed. Fans of a similar age to the band's members may have intertwined the sounds with their own life experiences for so many years. Young or old, all were clearly affected by the timeless angst.[page]
It must be an emotional catharsis for the band to perform these songs as well, as the thought of "what could have been" hung heavily over hearts and minds. There were moments of bliss, then pain, and everyone was pulled along through the turmoil and into wide spaces of beauty. Each song contains so many components, just as a relationship spanning from beginning to end. Most of the songs on Spiderland were inspired by difficult break-ups. Today, they also signify the life and death of the band.
McMahan seemed almost afraid of himself at times. Sadness was palpable in his delivery as he sang the words to "Washer." He continued to venture out towards the center of the stage, only to retreat back into his corner against the wall. At one point he even remarked, "I like it here. The walls are soft." His voice, though, was clear and intact. It sounded almost as if his vocals had been taken directly from the recorded work. After all of those years, the group still sounded like the teenagers they had been. Close your eyes, and you just may have wandered back in time. They still had it.
One of the night's most dramatic moments was when Walford climbed out from behind his drum set and sat center stage to perform "Don, Aman." His low growl penetrated the total darkness surrounding him, his face and arms outlined by red light. "Holy fucking shit," exclaimed an audience member.
Then the band jumped into their sleeper hit, "Good Morning, Captain." Everyone was mesmerized. It was a perfect climax after the intense buildup of previous songs, and a fitting end to their main set - "Good Morning, Captain" is the last track on Spiderland and perhaps their most recognizable piece, as it is featured on the soundtrack to the movie Kids. At the end of the song, McMahan screamed, "I miss you," wiping the sweat from his face as a room full of Slint fans' dreams came true.
A brief encore followed, but the peak had already been reached. The band left the stage with no words other than "Thank you," and a casual wave. The pouring rain outside was the perfect goodbye.
Personal Bias: I love Slint. I particularly relate the song "Good Morning Captain" to specific instances in my own life, so much so that it carries a devastating amount of emotional weight and actually brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, Slint.
The crowd: The guys from Buildings were in attendance. I ran into a couple other music writers, and there seemed to be lots of serious music-heads in the building. Everyone was very appreciative of the opportunity to experience Slint firsthand.
Random notebook dump: Some lady keeps talking about "magic fingers." I think she also yelled out "thank you," in French. Weird.
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
53 things you might not know about Prince
Brother Ali: My fans are kicking the sh*t out of me over Trayvon Martin
Foo Fighters photo waiver one of the industry's severest: Here's why we didn't sign
Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list