Shellac : ATP Nightmare before Xmas : live review
All Tomorrows Parties
Dec 2nd 2012
A Shellac gig is a rare event.
A closing slot at their own-curated event at a triumphant All Tomorrowâs Parties sees the band in the best form of a long and unconventional journey of occasional musical adventures. Shellac are the ultimate power trio honed to perfection on the two decades since the implosion of guitarist/vocalist Steve Albini’s Big Black.
The band play occasional gigs defying the music business and slotting into the schedule of Steve Albini and bassist Bob Weston’s non stop work as recording engineers. When they get together Shellac have been pushing rock to its extremes without ever becoming boring. This is a highly intelligent music of unexpected riffs and odd time signatures that gets bored of the plod of normal rock music and prefers provocation and imagination to safety first. To watch all this unfold tonight with an added moshpit is perfection- making the implausible danceable- now thatâs a trick.
Shellac have refined their music over and over, with the seamless perfection of the songs that are driven by Steve Albini’s shrapnel Travis Bean guitar angular riffing and small mammalian guitar runs, Bob Weston’s deliciously heavy bass given its extra tones by his Tronographic Rusty Box pedal and Todd Trainer’s stunning drumming- which is so precise you can set the end of time by it. The aluminium necked bass and guitar are key to the music with the guitarâs sustain being put to good use with the neck being one piece from headstock to bridge being a key component of the sound.
The band make a music that defies the Trad Rock boring song structure and rules, turning them inside out and they play like a band that has known each other for a long time and where instinct rules. They barely nod at each other mid song but throw in time signatures and changes that are mind-boggling- just KNOWING when to change.
You cannot possibly get this tight unless you listen to eachother and feel the music and this band is a perfect unit. There is no drowning out of each other, no pointless noodling, no fat, no waste. This is a scorched earth music that is powerfully heavy and technically stunning but with also a brilliant minimalism that is also still firmly rooted in the possibilities thrown up by punk.
From the off its obvious that they still obviously enjoy the noise and distorted heaviness of instruments pushed to the maximum. Their music zig zags from dense thickets of sound to sparse sections of just one instrument holding that rhythm and building the tension, waiting for everything to come crashing in. Opposite riffs collide and crash into each other, vocals are yelped or screamed and the band never settle for the obvious and are never boring.
Taking the power trio to its logical extreme, Shellac defy all rock convention and boring ideas of ‘how things are done’. This is especially true of the gravity defying music that destroys the convention and ego of the rock band- with each member playing lead in an abrasive and powerful sound. Added to this is the stripping away of all the chest puffing detritus of rock lore as the band set their own gear up without the butler service of a sweltering road crew.
The almost earnest way they set up their gear, like a very determined machine, sets the scene- the bass and the guitar amp heads are not on the customary place on top of the speakers and the bass guitar lies on top of the cab and not in a guitar rack. This is a band that has thought about every aspect of what they do and moulded it into their own way of doing things. The drums are placed central, right at the front, pushing the idea of the three corners of the rock trio, making a powerful statement of intent.
The start of the set is a statement of intent. They wander onto the stage and for thirty seconds they fiddle with their amps and then Albini and Bob Weston turn round and, without even looking at each other, the band seamlessly crash into a jagged, shrapnel set of mind dazzling pieces of guitar and sound that sound so perfect that it takes your breath way.
They play songs from all periods of their long history and a batch of new tunes that show that the imagination has not been dented by their longevity.
My Black Ass sounds ferocious whilst End Of Radio is stretched to nearly 15 minutes of wired tension hooked around the dense porridge of the bass chords and Todd Trainer wandering around the stage hitting his snare off mic.
The bandâs songs sound even more spindly and wired and skewed with a dark sense of humour. There is no sign of the band changing their sound but just exploring their own powerful and totally original take on music.
It’s no joyless math rock workout though, there is a large element of fun here and the show even has a theatricality to it with the band pretending to be planes during Wingwalker or dismantling Todd Trainerâs drum kit at the end of the set as he keeps trying to play. Bob Weston reads out made up stats about the festival and Steve Albini talks about all the bands they have seen play at the weekend (it turns out that they have seen all of them- rushing from stage to stage).
Shellac are living proof that you can be a great rock band without all the tedious bullshit. This is rock stripped away of cliche and boredom. This is rock music stripped away of the whole surrounding circus and itâs rock music that really soars because all three members of the band have been let lose in a creative flux with no one driving force in a creative hurricane of imagination and no holds barred musicianship.
There is still no sign of a new album, just another clutch of great new songs waiting for the Albini recording which is always the pinnacle of his long and brilliant recording career with Shellac almost designed to sound perfect through those ribbon mics and specially constructed studio that he owns.
On a night like this Shellac are the best rock band on the planet and the real, true sound of what later alternative music actually really does sound like.