The four of us stumbled off the Megabus dazed and exhausted from a night of little sleep. Chicago was more crowded at six in the morning than St. Louis is in the middle of the afternoon and everything is exaggerated. The Sears Tower loomed directly above us and I felt small and unimportant in the best way that is only possible in large cities. This was freedom and excitement and no amount of exhaustion could diminish the wonderment that that feeling creates. We walked around and ate at an overpriced, understaffed restaurant before we were let into the loft we were staying at on Green and Randolph to pass out for a few hours. The loft was filled with several thousand CDs and LPs of artists like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, ESG, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Joy Division, and I was given a copy of y by the Pop Group.
At around 3 p.m. Drew and I headed down to Union Park to secure a spot in line for Slint’s performance of Spiderland. Spiderland is as much a religious relic as an album, an expression of all the depressive tendencies of humankind, and I was apprehensive. How could this performance live up to what the album represented in my head? I was actually nervous as I sprinted to the front of the Connector stage.
The performance of Spiderland was perfect. Every build up, every release was exactly how it was recorded seventeen years ago, but now it was immediate and on the stage in front of me. Although it was hard to finally put a face to the voice that whispers “I’m trying to find my way back home,” it was quite the way to open the festival. However, after they finished the last notes of “Good Morning Captain,” they slipped into what I am assuming is a new song that I wish had ended as soon as it began. It was too long and almost sounded like it was written by a jam band until the guitarist went into a wanky math-rock solo section that didn’t even fit the rest of the song. I’m not hoping for new Slint to sound exactly like Spiderland, if it sounded more like The For Carnation or Tortoise I would be more than happy, but this didn’t sound like the same band at all. Slint are masters of mood, but there was no mood whatsoever created by their last song.
I will come back to the GZA’s performance later, but Sonic Youth was one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life. What made their performance so much more spectacular than Slint’s (besides the obviously better non-Daydream songs pulled from Rather Ripped), was that the album seemed to be alive. Daydream Nation seemed so much more relevant than Spiderland, not only because Sonic Youth played the hell out of those songs but because they didn’t play the exact versions recorded twenty years ago. The noise breakdown in “Silver Rocket” sounded spectacular, and was extended with Lee Renaldo flailing his guitar around relentlessly. Even though the band has aged considerably since 1988, there was still sexuality oozing from the music and their performances; Thurston was even reminiscent of a more restrained Mick Jagger. Slint was going through the motions (no matter how spectacular those motions are), while Sonic Youth obliterated any semblance of the motions by putting the old songs in this new context.
After the final notes of “Jams Run Free,” we dragged ourselves back to the loft to prepare for the next day of the festival. Check back for my synopses of days two and three!