Shellac at First Avenue, 9/1/12
Steve Albini on 20 years of Shellac, handling hecklers, and AC/DC's brilliance
Shellac's Todd Trainer on Minneapolis drummers, and today's music climate
Bob Weston on LCD Soundsystem, Arcwelder, and All Tomorrow's Parties
Shellac's 20th Anniversary Show with Bellini and STNNNG
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 1, 2012
Even after 20 years, you still never know quite what to expect from a Shellac show. The explosive trio rolled through First Avenue on Saturday evening as part of their brief, four-date 20th Anniversary tour (which included three consecutive nights a week earlier at Chicago's Lincoln Hall), and gave their dedicated, longtime fans a tight 80-minute, 15-song set filled with the raw minimalist urgency that has always set them apart from every other band throughout their distinctive but mostly unheralded musical career.
Shellac's live shows have become a bit more sporadic in recent years, but after the three gigs in Chicago, the band were clearly in fine form at First Ave. Steve Albini wasted little time leading the band, who were all lined up in a compact row on the edge of the stage, into their raucous opener "My Black Ass" while the screen was still lifting in front of them. A tempestuous version of "Copper" quickly followed, getting the set started with a couple of short, energetic bursts of sonic fury before fans had a chance to even catch their breath.
Bassist Bob Weston took a brief moment to address the boisterous crowd while also acknowledging the significance of the city they were playing in, "Steve and I would like to personally thank Minneapolis for producing Todd Trainer." And indeed, this celebratory show was a way for the band to thank their fans for two decades of support, as well as giving the audience an outlet for showing Shellac just how much they have meant to us over all these years.
The songs came fast and furious for the most part, as an angular, tension-filled "Compliant" quickly gave way to a incendiary run through of "Steady As She Goes," which featured both Albini and Weston leaving the stage mid-song to give Trainer an impromptu drum solo before they both stormed back to finish the fitful song. The sound was crisp and clean throughout the set, as you would expect from any Albini project, and the sparse, staccato riffs and rhythms of the band were precise and powerful all evening.
After an incendiary new song called "Riding Bikes," Weston took some questions from the crowd during the first of two customary Q&A sessions. And while most of the questions were either inaudible or just plain stupid, someone asked him what his favorite Simpsons episode was, to which Bob replied, "I can never remember. What's your favorite Simpsons episode?" And when the guy in the audience also couldn't name one, Weston sharply responded, "See!"
Someone also asked "What's Steve's favorite joke?" At which point Albini told one of the crudest, most vile jokes I've ever heard, which horrifically involved cunnilingus, his Nana, and donkey semen. Thankfully that brought the Q&A to a quick end, and the band got back to business with a combustible version of "A Minute" which transitioned smoothly into a smoldering rendition of "Squirrel Song" which proved to be a mid-set highlight.
Albini then went on a bit of a rant, playfully warning his audience about impending changes in their bodies that they will soon be experiencing, telling us, "Don't fear the sexual impulses stirring within you. Embrace them instead. This song is called 'You Came In Me.'" Of course that's the name of the song, what else would it possibly be called?
Albini and the gang were clearly having fun at this point, as was the audience, and riotous run-throughs of "Watch Song," "Prayer to God," and "Dude, Incredible" all made the performance truly memorable, as the band consistently nailed each and every complicated time transition, with Trainer's thunderous drumming leading the way. In fact, during the tense ending to "Watch Song," both Albini and Weston were beating on the cymbals along with Trainer, forming a strange, six-armed indie centipede behind the drum kit, which featured a lone, Battles-like cymbal eight feet off the ground.
Another brief Q&A yielded this hilarious response from Albini when someone asked why the band hadn't broke a sweat yet: "I'm 50 fucking years old, I sweat when I wake up in the morning. I sweat when I have a moderate bowel movement. I sweat when the refrigerator door sticks." But even with their advancing age, the band shows no signs of growing old or stale, and their songs all still bristle with a youthful intensity.
The set drew to a close with a ferocious version of "Wingwalker," which gave way to the adventurous, Albini-led experimentalism of "The End of Radio." With Trainer holding a snare drum above his head while keeping a solitary drum beat, Albini went off on a spoken-word freestyle which featured shout-outs to the "small-market airwaves of St. Cloud and Bemidji" as well as Steve apologizing for radio itself. Albini also went on to say, "This goes out to a special girl -- there isn't a special girl" before bringing the song back to focus on the continuing drug-fuelled adventures of "Snare drum and I." And it's those type of acerbic lyrical contradictions which have always kept Shellac interesting and edgy.
Albini then announced that the One On One Bicycle Studio would be reopening following the show for an after-party featuring a collection of Shellac concert posters throughout their career, and "I suppose you can purchase a bike there too, if you need one like right now." He also told the fans that the band would be happy to meet with them in front of the stage after the show, where Weston would be hand-selling 20th Anniversary shirts they designed just for the occasion.
But before he could ramble on any longer, he stopped himself, saying "I know you're all thinking what I'm thinking... Todd Trainer, play the fucking drums." And with that, the band tore into the untamed set closer "Spoke," which featured unintelligible lyrics from Albini as well as a cough-filled chorus from Weston, before the two of them started breaking apart Trainer's kit while he fought to keep the rhythm. It was the perfect disheveled conclusion to a night celebrating a band who have always played by their own unpredictable rules.
Personal Bias: I've been a big fan since the first time I saw Shellac play in 1996, and they continue to deliver each and every time I see them live.
The Crowd: A large turnout of diehards who show up every time Shellac comes through town.
Overheard In The Crowd: Plenty of old friends warmly greeting one another who only seem to see each other at Shellac shows.
Random Notebook Dump: The stark stage was augmented with only a sole LOMO banner as a backdrop, and a bunch of weathered and worn amps that have seen their share of shows.
My Black Ass
Steady As She Goes
You Came In Me
Prayer To God
The End Of Radio
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