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The Last Time We Reunite (Except for That Next Time) 

Sometimes it's so damn hard to be a Slint fan

Wednesday, Jul 18 2007
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A little more than two years ago, I was thinking about placing a bid on a beat-up Fender Stratocaster listed on eBay for around $800. This wasn't just any Strat — it belonged to David Pajo, guitarist for the legendary post-rock band Slint. Spiderland, Slint's career-defining 1991 recording, is one of my favorite albums ever. The record is brilliant in its own right and a gateway to other bands that also push guitar-heavy sound into unpredictable and exhilarating realms. Thus, my sentimental impulse to snap up the instrument.

Pajo's ax — along with frontman Brian McMahan's white Telecaster, a Fender guitar amp, and other Slint gear — was being auctioned off with what now reads as a pretty absurd epitaph. The reason for the sale was spelled out in the item's description: "The group has now disbanded permanently as intended."

Two years after that "permanent" breakup, the band's second split since it formed in 1986, Slint is touring once again, this time to play Spiderland in its entirety. What gives?

The eBay sell-off happened just a few weeks after I'd seen Slint play live in Seattle on its first, albeit brief, reunion tour. In virtually every interview the band gave for that road show, its members stressed that this was the absolute last chance fans would have to see Slint live. "It's not gonna be like Kiss breaking up and getting back together constantly," Pajo told the Village Voice in 2005. "It's a way to have some closure with the band, you know?" Yeah, we know ... noisily auctioning off your gear on eBay and charging twentysomething bucks for the live gig made the definitive statement that not only had Slint reached the end of the road, but it was also dropping right over the cliff.

Apparently, some cliffs offer soft landings.

Granted, plenty of groups reunite after swearing up and down that they wouldn't. But outside of Gene Simmons — and, well, maybe the Eagles, and, of course, Cher — few make such a big stinkin' show out of calling it quits before going back for just one more victory lap.

But Slint is supposed to operate in a different dimension from hokey arena grandstanding, right? With acts like Cher or the Eagles, coming back from the grave involves just as much histrionic theatrics as an evening's encore. It's all part of the show. Slint has always been an avatar of the indie underground, the opposite of showbiz. The music saw to that: 1989's Tweez was a sporadically spellbinding debut, but Spiderland — recorded when the band members were barely out of their teens — is a work of startling maturity. It's a brooding masterpiece that cast a tension-packed, unsettling mood and was groundbreaking in its creation of quiet-to-roaring dynamics. Unassuming to the hilt, the band didn't see the point in doing interviews, and its name wasn't even on the cover of Spiderland. When Slint split up after releasing just two records, there wasn't any fanfare.

In the years that followed, Slint evolved into rock gods for music geeks. Through the '90s, countless artists (most famously Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Isis, and Explosions in the Sky) counted Slint as a major influence, and Spiderland generated new interest. The review-slash-"Slint eulogy" that renowned producer Steve Albini wrote of Spiderland in 1991 only added to the group's lore: "Only two other bands have meant as much to me as Slint in the past few years ... My instincts tell me the dry spell will continue for a while ... Play this record and kick yourself if you never got to see them live."

I spent many years kicking myself, until that fantastic evening in 2005. That show was phenomenal, offering everything I could have hoped for, including the spine-chilling guitar chimes; that one perfect, distorted chord (Slint fans, you know which one I mean); and the frantic, screamy climax of "Good Morning, Captain." You could also feel the heightened anxiety of a crowd getting in its last licks. But now that the finale wasn't so final after all, I feel like a chump. It's hard not to smart from the once-in-a-lifetime promotion of both the show and the subsequent eBay auction. Was the change of heart for Slint's financial gain? (Nothing packs venues and moves merch like a farewell tour.) It's all pretty disappointing, doubly so for a band that always oozed such integrity.

Of course, I still love Slint's music, but I'm gonna skip this round of Spiderland performances. I don't need another turn of Kiss climaxes. As for Pajo's guitar, I resisted the urge to bid on it. I heard the thing went for around $2,000. To me, it's just not worth that much.

About The Author

Michael Alan Goldberg

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