Live Music + Gig Reviews

Slint @ KOKO, London

22 August 2007

The Don’t Look Back series started back in 2005 with The Stooges and Funhouse, and have fast become some of the most interesting gigs on the live music calendar.It’s a simple idea really, getting a few bands in to play their most enduring album in its entirety.

This year sees two of the most seminal American alternative albums of all time getting an airing. Later this month Sonic Youth will be trying to recreate Daydream Nation, but tonight we’re here to witness Slint play their massively influential Spiderland album.

When released, Spiderland didn’t really cause too much of a fuss. Over the years however, it has gained a huge following and has been responsible, some would argue, for what we know today as post-rock.

Much of today’s Post Rock is reliant on banks of effects pedals, but Slint prefer to allow dynamics and musicianship do the talking (with the exception of some well placed distortion).

On the back cover of the CD version of Spiderland there is a little statement that reads: “This recording is meant to be listened to on vinyl.” Tonight though, this statement seems a little hollow. Slint are not a visual band in any way at all. On stage they are as anonymous as those bobbing heads that adorn Will Oldham’s cover photo. There is very little in the way of banter or communication between the band and the audience. As a result this gig is no visual spectacle, but a purely aural one.

Vinyl might be the hipsters format of choice, but on this evidence, you can only conclude that Spiderland was meant to be listened to live. From the opening harmonics of Breadcrumb Trail to the climactic explosion of Good Morning Captain, Slint make the record come alive. Minor niggles aside, such as a low vocal mix and a bass that occasionally threatens to swamp the intricate guitar work on display, this is an exemplary lesson in dynamics.

We’re all familiar with the whole loud/quiet template now, but Slint’s approach occasionally catches you unaware. The eerie guitar lick of Nosferatu Man huge in the KOKO’s speakers that gives way to the thrashy grunge lick that heralds one of the few parts of Spiderland that you could actually bounce to is one such example.

Then we’re into Don, Aman a song that in stark contrast has no percussion, just the interplay of guitar and voice. The sparseness of the track is the perfect setting for Brian McMahan’s hushed vocals, if anything it’s more disturbing in performance and content than the vampiric Nosferatu Man.

Each song is greeted by a small ripple of applause, and the occasional cheer, but the general tone is set at reverence. It is perhaps of little surprise that the beard count tonight is surprisingly high, as Slint have no doubt inspired as many chin strokers as they have bands.

This is how Slint should be listened to. You can keep your vinyl, because live (even with KOKO’s notorious sound system) this is simply majestic.

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Slint @ KOKO, London