We saw Slint at The Old Market, Hove


Don stepped outside…

There are some bands that manage to possess the fire very early in their beginnings, but that doesn’t mean that they can contain it. It’s there for a moment but threatens to combust entirely, spontaneously, and leaves the band in a state of ruin where all there is to do is to walk away from it, never full understanding what it was that so stirred them. It happened to My Bloody Valentine in the recording of Loveless, it happened to The Refused in The Shape of Punk to Come (which ironically never came), and it happened to Slint, with Spiderland.

Twenty five years ago Spiderland came and crawled its way out of hundreds of low-key music stores in an ominous mystery, from the unsettling black and white album cover of the band submerged in some canyon near their hometown in Louisevile, Kentucky, to the odd message on the back of the album below the track listing, “interested female vocalists write 1864 douglas blvd. louisville, ky. 40205”. Still to this day, listening to this album is an extremely unique experience; somehow the six tracks assume a shape and form with wildly complicated structures of harmonics and spoken word that builds into full blown screaming. It’s visceral, complex, and something that a band can only do once. They broke up as soon as Spiderland, their second album, was released, and the band from Kentucky became near mythological.

It’s visceral, complex, and something that a band can only do once

Tonight in the Old Market, the demographic of the crowd is broad. I arrive thirty seconds into the set opener, On the Breadcrumb Trail, which is still in its sublime opening that loops as Brian McMahan softly tells of going to a fortune teller and having his fortune read. A minute later the crashing guitars erupt and the sound becomes something so utterly different that you’re not quite sure where your at. It’s a very controlled chaos, much like how Fugazi worked, but also different.

Brian McMahan (Credit: Brighton Noise/Agata Urbaniak)

Brian McMahan (Credit: Brighton Noise/Agata Urbaniak)

As though magnetised to the microphone but in constant state of flux, McMahan drifts away from it and then carouses back in, never once moving from the spot in where his feet stand. His vocal range is far from melodic, but it’s managed to stay as intact as it was when he was twenty years old. Britt Walford, the drummer and occasional vocalist who also acts as Slints second persona, is masterful, but near invisible as he bends over the drums and pummels them. The band play songs from both their first album and from Spiderland, and each one is so tightly worked that all you can do is stand in awe, which is what the crowd do for the duration. The only criticism of the show is that, ironically, that the songs seem a little too rehearsed, and the crowd a little too reverent.

The only time they address the crowd the whole night is when Britt replaces Brian on vocals for Don, Aman, telling us that you can smell the sea air in the room. A heckler shouts “it’s just sweat!” and the room goes quiet, before Britt agrees – “that’s bullshit, you can’t smell the sea air”. He carefully falls into the song and the strange song begins with a nocturnal aura of impending doom, and catharsis, and joy.

The highlight of the set was, and was always going to be, the closer, Good Morning Captain. A song based on the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner which goes in as deep as it can go. It drones you along slowly and then the guitar feedback wails, the drums start, it subdues itself back to near silence, and then it goes up in flames. The Captain screams to his son “I MISS YOU”, over and over and the shivers come as they’ve always done. They never got any better than that, but that’s not the point, because most bands never get anywhere near as good as they got with Spiderland.

They leave the crowd as awkwardly as I’m sure they entered, having given all that everyone wanted them to give. It was something special to be there tonight and see them play. I doubt most people thought they ever would, or even knew who these gifted musicians were twenty five years ago when they emerged from the creek, in Kentucky.

• Spiderland (Remastered) is available from Amazon (CD or Digital).

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