‘Everything is rhythm, except when it isn’t‘ – Chris Jones gets happily pummelled at Slint‘s Monday night Belfast gig We’re at an interesting stage of the great heritage indie revue. Fully a decade after the Pixies set the ball rolling by doing what no-one expected them to do and reforming, pretty much every revered indie rock band from the Eighties and Nineties has got back together, many – like the Pixies – for much longer than they were ever around in the first place.
Slint, who were originally active from 1986 to 1992, fall into that category too, after a fashion, having rejoined the fray in 2005 and performed sporadically ever since. And so many of the more dedicated fans in the Limelight tonight have been able to see them before, whether in Dublin, at ATP, at Primavera Sound or somewhere else. But Slint have never played in Belfast before, and so the excitement in the room is palpable.
It’s a daunting environment for Girl Band to find themselves in, and the young Dubliners certainly don’t radiate confidence, looking every inch the timid indie boys. However, they sound like anything but. It’s rare to encounter a band so innovative in their use of the guitar/bass/drums/vocals format, but Girl Band have ripped up the rulebook and stomped it into the mud.
First there’s the bass, a great ugly brute of a sound that shakes the floor like industrial machinery. At one point, Daniel Fox dispenses with his fretting hand altogether and spends an entire song sliding a beer bottle up and down the strings instead. It’s a magnificent spectacle. Then Alan Duggan’s guitar, which isn’t so much played as abused, shards of steely noise peeling away from the strings and creating the maximum amount of space between bass and treble. And Adam Faulkner’s drums, unshowy, martial and insistent, betraying the band’s love of stripped-down techno.
Everything is rhythm, except when it isn’t (such as the sly little melodic riff in Lawman), and even then the impact is all the greater. This primal, viscerally rhythmic cacophony and then there’s Dara Kiely – dressed smartly in shirt and jeans – hollering over the top with shut-eyed intensity. In one song, he seems to dispense with diction altogether, and the effect is disorientating and thrilling. It’s a stunning performance, deservedly well received.
Slint begin as they finished their career with Glenn, an instrumental from the EP that was released in 1994, two years after they split up. It acts as a mood-setter, preparing the way for what is to come, and after it Brian McMahan – still with the endearing demeanour of an awkward teenager in his mid-40s – gets the crowd onside by muttering that his father’s side of the family is from Northern Ireland: “shit is intense.”
That throwaway statement sets up the rest of the show, which is full of serene intensity. Slint go big to begin with, following Glenn with the first two tracks from the classic Spiderland, Breadcrumb Trail and the grinding, kinetic Nosferatu Man. When David Pajo first lets loose on his guitar during the former after that delicate opening passage, it’s a moment of immense power. Just as it looks like they might be about to play Spiderland in sequence, something they’ve done before, they throw in Darlene, from their first album Tweez.
A couple of things are especially striking when you watch Slint play live. One is their use of rhythm. Britt Walford is an exceptional drummer, and there’s real snap to his idiosyncratic playing. Nosferatu Man and especially Good Morning, Captain swing with purpose, and Washer ebbs and flows beautifully, nudged along by Walford and bassist Matt Jencik. The other is their sense of restraint. At their quietest, such as the gentle For Dinner… and the opening passages of Washer, the band are just about playing their instruments and no more – Walford barely laying his sticks on his hi-hats. It’s to the crowd’s credit that the room is so hushed in these moments, and to the band’s that they are executed with such poise and delicacy.
It also serves to accentuate the intoxicating power of the band at their loudest, and as they finish the main part of the set with the immortal Good Morning, Captain and McMahan’s anguished screams of “I miss you”, several generations of Slint fans are happily pummelled by that bracing wall of noise, completely united with the band.
The encore is a fond look back to their early days with the hard rocking Pam – an unreleased track that appeared on the recent Spiderland reissue – and Rhoda, from Tweez. With their classic songs out of the way, it’s time for the band to let loose and have fun, and it’s a pleasure to see this group of middle-aged men – three of whom have been friends since childhood – simply enjoy rocking out on the Belfast stage. Long may they continue to do it.