at the Echo, August 21
Shellac equals Steve Albini plus Bob Weston times Todd Trainer — primeval Chicago
noisemen who are perhaps better known for their non-Shellac productions and
performances. They unveil their dense, compelling thud with some songs from
the new LP (rumored to be packaged in a 12-inch jewel case) when they’ve got
a chance, which isn’t often, so it demands attention this august August afternoon.
Bassist Weston admonishes the crowd not to broadcast
the performance over upheld cell phones, as ex-Riflesport drummer and simian
triphammer Trainer gets plenty laughs by twirling a drumstick in extreme
slo-mo. Pumping incredibly precise and brutal measures of trebly ax and
grumblingly resonant bass through monolithic custom amp heads, the trio
approach passages within the songs much like anthologies Canterbury or Grimm.
It is rock music that is neither anthemic nor anemic.
As Shellac piledrive the groove and beat, the dynamic
— how the sounds are pushed around — lets one listen to the songs as a whole,
or to the individual instruments; sum and parts are equally riveting. Inspired
by the late great BBC DJ John Peel, “The End of Radio” rains down and reins in,
as there are thankfully no endless washes of distortion and feedback or
megaphone vocals at any point — only steel-eating, ass-hair-raising rock manna.
Weston takes questions from the audience. “How were
the cookies?” “Will the NHL survive with the new rules?” “What stereo system
works best in Hell?” Guitarist Albini predicts the Braves in the playoffs;
Trainer cures the crowd’s fever with more cowbell in the opening to the Stones’
“Honky Tonk Women.” Albini quips, to another heckler: “You’re no Big Black fan
either, because our fans were smart and cool!” As the lyrics to “Crow” now go,
“Time flies in a straight line” — they’re resolutely unsentimental about
Albini’s past in Big Black. The action ends and the audience filters out,
exultant and enjoying something that only the rarest of bands today can offer: