UNTIL LAST SUMMER, when the Chicago noise band Shellac played host to a punk-rock brunch down at the 7th Street Entry, I thought that I belonged to a very small clique of tinnitus candidates who could tolerate a midmorning dose of loud, live angst. Really, who else would drive downtown at 9 a.m. to spend a sunny Sunday morning eating Pop Tarts in the gloomy confines of the Entry? Yet, by the time I arrived downtown that day, the line from the Entry's door had spilled all the way out to Hennepin Avenue.
And there we waited, as drummer Todd Trainer stood by the curb entertaining a brood of his Minneapolis relatives, and the air became first humid, then hot. It was almost like going to a church social for recovering misanthropes. The crusties, who in their evening-hour element are rather surly, were now downright amicable. So we sleepily shuffled in the door, grabbed toaster pastries and coffee, crammed into the sweltering Entry to watch the Saturday cartoons that served as an opening act, and prepared for the arrival of the perennial punk cartoon himself, singer-guitarist Steve Albini.
Of course, only a self-made iconoclast like Albini--the acerbic voice of the anti-corporate, anti-critic DIY aesthetic for nearly two decades--would attempt to pull this off. And the airtight band had obviously swilled enough caffeine to make it work.
Arbiters of punk cant have been grousing for years that Albini has watered down the punk ethos he sculpted with his late-'80s hardcore band Big Black, turning producer-to-the-stars in his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. (He recently enabled the ultimate anti-punk effort in the form of a Jimmy Page/Robert Plant reunion album). By the same token, Shellac's debut, At Action Park--which came encased in a bland brown record jacket--was better received by his longtime adherents than the new Terraform, a hunk of heavy vinyl packaged to suggest a space-age vision of utopia. Yet, once plunked down on the turntable, the droning tracks that open each side--"Mouthpiece" and "Didn't We Deserve a Look at You the Way You Really Are"--prove as user-unfriendly as Big Black's 1987 scum-rock grail, Songs About Fucking.
The new record's success (or lack thereof) probably won't have any bearing on whether this week's show with Touch and Go label-mate Blonde Red Head will match last year's heights. This time they're moving the party over to the Mainroom, which should make things a bit more comfortable. But second-timers can rest assured: The morning's festivities will come with the same slacker-style breakfast treats.
Shellac plays an all-ages show with Blonde Red Head and the Thrones at First Avenue, 9 a.m. Sunday; 338-8388.
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