Shellac: Leeds – live review
Leeds Brudenhell Social Club
‘Why didn’t you play Newcastle!?’ an audience member shouts during a Q & A session with the band whilst they tuned between guitars. ‘The same reason we didn’t play Weston-Super Mare’ deadpans bassist Bob Weston, ‘Plus this place is fucking awesome’ referring to the Brudenell Social Club, in which Shellac are a part of its 100 year celebrations as an establishment. It was initially shocking to see that they were coming to my home town, the band is not each member’s highest priority due to their own successful careers in different areas, because of this there is little touring and records take a long time to be created, so I had little hopes of seeing them play anywhere near where I live. However a great perk of living in Leeds is that it has the Brudenell Social Club, a venue that is the pinnacle of the Leeds Music scene, the variety and the quality of bands that are booked by the promoter are frankly astounding, so in a way I shouldn’t be surprised that this band were playing.
Helen Money supported the band tonight, a solo performer, whose performance was well received from the audience, with good reason too, she plays a great set, holding fort before Shellac arrive on the stage. As an accomplished cellist, she plays her instrument with the manipulation of pedals and other samples, making music that is authoritative, impressive and unique, thus deserving the consideration from the crowd.
With little time wasted setting up, we see the three piece take to the stage, with Steve Albini’s guitar strapped to his waist, they launch straight into ‘Ghosts’ from their album 1000 Hurts, the instantly recognisable riff begins to take shape with the bass and drums following. Before they properly take flight they begin humorously acting in slow motion in unison for a brief moment then proceed to hammer away at the track. The crowd roars back with approval, transitioning from this song into ice cold cuts from second record ‘Terraform’, the pulverising ‘Canada’ is a highlight, Albini spitting the lyrics with the ferocity that the track demands, ‘You’ve been at it so long, ya fat fuck, its chronic!’, his guitar work is particularly powerful on this track, charging forward with no introduction, music and lyrics meeting simultaneously and heading straight for the jugular. ‘Copper’ arrives next, a vaguely subdued track, with a throbbing bass line leading, until the guitar slices through the refrain, meeting in chaos before abruptly ending.
Throughout the show, Steve Albini ( Guitar/Vox), Bob Weston (Bass) and Todd Trainer (Drums) look completely in their element, again taking time to interact and joke with the audience. They look at ease with the venue, playing with passion, it’s obvious that they are getting a great amount of enjoyment from playing, with each member in evidently jovial moods, they incorporate playfulness into their set. Taking into account the pre-planned stage antics of many modern bands, it is refreshing to see a band having fun and not taking themselves that seriously. ‘1000 Hurts’ closer the ‘Watch song’, an explosive number, with a riff that sounds like it was made with the intention to destroy everything in its path. The song ends with band coming together with Albini and Weston drumsticks in hands, playing a cymbal each on the drum set whilst Trainer plays the cymbal behind his head, with the frenzied noise of each cymbal being struck at once, it helps the song reach a fitting end.
Fan favourite ‘End of radio’, a song which Weston’s bass acts as the spine of the song, a focus on repetition of 3 bass chords accompanied by Trainer’s incessant snare drum work. This minimal instrumentation acts as a juxtaposition to the rambling of Albini’s comical, spoken word lyrics. In tonight’s set the airing of the song is very different lyrically as instead he adlibs, which slowly forms into a surrealist, hilarious story where the central theme appears to be about ‘nerds on a boat’
‘Prayer to God’ one of the bands best loved songs, is rapturously received by the audience, accompanied by an untouchable, metallic guitar tone. The lyrics are written so it is spewing bile upon its listener, with the refrain of ‘kill him! Kill him already kill him!’ Unlike the song’s subject matter of utter contempt for a certain person, the lyrics aren’t sung with that sincere rage tonight, with Albini referring to God as a ‘fucking asshole’ and telling him ‘to grant him this favour’ because he ‘brought him weed when he was sick’.
Shellac air songs spanning from all their albums, such as ‘Dog and Pony Show’ and the incredible ‘Squirrel Song’, A great moment of the set was found in ‘Billiard Player Song’ a surprisingly touching song, an old cut, which contains a greater focus on lyrics, explored with care. At one point, Albini’s voice is isolated from any other instrumental noise, the audience are in the palm of his hand, hanging on to his every word. There is at this point such focus within the audience on what he is trying to communicate. These lyrics are different than other Shellac songs which often contain Albini’s trademark dark humour, revealing lyrical themes that are generally not explored so much in their back catalogue.
Tonight, when an audience member asks about new album, it comes to fruition that it is coming soon, to be released next year, great news for fans of the band. This was apparent tonight as much of tonight’s set was focused on new tracks, which contained their signature style of noisy music that they have carefully honed over the years. Although the band are having a lot of fun, this live performance acts also to reinforcement their power as a live band, having no issue translating these beloved tracks into live form. After their new song which they say is titled ‘All the Surveyors’, (in which the band don’t miss the opportunity to ask anyone in the room if they are passionate about surveying), as it ends, the song is followed by a rumbling bass that arrests the room in an instant, signalling the start to ‘Crow’, a crushing highlight from their classic debut album ‘At Action Park’. The bass line is followed by the sharp spike of guitar and irregular drum pattern start together. Shellac perform this song to perfection, giving it the exact intensity it needs to fuel, this track of a slower tempo. The essence of the track is brooding, as if it is waiting to pounce on its prey, which ironically is what the song seems to be trying to communicate lyrically in a way.
As a unit they are so tight, with drummer Todd Trainer punishing his kit throughout. His drums suffer such pounding blows from his sticks, I am surprised that they still are intact at the end of the show. Albini treats the audience to a brilliant vocal performance throughout the set. His guitar tone acts as such an important element to the sound giving the band have their signature style. In a live situation, it sounds even more essential, with him striking his guitar to form filthy, slabs of noise, to intertwine with the brutish groove that they have in place. The band never delve out of sync, they are completely in tune with each other, feedback swelling from the guitar which echoes around the room. The creeping bass lines, each instrument hammering away without smothering what they are trying to prove.
The trio move from song to song with mighty confidence, producing noise so oppressing over its audience that you forget it’s just three guys not ten. Shellac do not need to hone in their skills or progress in live situation, they have been playing together for over twenty years. This is a band at the peak of their powers, and they rule.