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Paul Higgins
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Shellac Of North America
Oct 15, 2017, 19:13
SHELLAC – THE FLEECE, BRISTOL – Saturday 7th of October 2017

The band fire straight into a pummeling “Canada” from second album proper “Terraform” released in 1997. The overall sound is crisp and clear and it’s easy to see how the band’s studio perfections and attention to detail transcend into their live performances. Bob Weston’s bass tones anchor the whole thing and Albini attacks his guitar aggressively at times churning out metallic riffing melding perfectly with the bass and drums. He plays Travis Bean guitars famous for their aluminium necks and compliments this by using copper plectrums. His distortion pedal is an Interfax “Harmonic Percolator.”
Crowd favourite and early Shellac number “My Black Ass” really sets the place on fire and it’s quite simply a really great tune showcasing what a mighty force this band are. Each tune is played with confidence, brutality and tons of passion and they even make it all look so effortlessly easy. After nearly thirty years together as a band it’s evident this is not exactly a group perfecting their craft but rather riding on it. The sound they create is huge as if ten people were involved yet there is only three of them – it is well-suited to a venue of this size too. The show is not just about the music though and the often amusing interaction the band have with those in attendance tonight only adds to the performance and love the audience have for this three-piece. Albini once said he has no real interest in the audience when he plays and that he only really cares if his fellow band mates are happy but a band so evidently in love with their work is always going to satisfy their crowd too.
Todd Trainer has to be one of the best post-hardcore drummers there has ever been. His passion for his chosen progression burns bright and on tonight’s evidence it’s amazing he doesn’t do himself an injury such is the ferociousness of his playing. His timing is impeccable it has to be said. Shellac classics “Compliant”, “Riding Bikes” and the utterly fierce “Squirrel Song” follow with the latter making sense of Albini’s t-shirt choice this evening. The great big whopping slabs of sound this band create shudder around the venue and the once Big Black frontman’s vocal performance is also spot on tonight. The band are never out of synch, hammer away together perfectly in tune with one another and even treat us to several new tracks such as “Mailman” hinting a new album may be on the horizon. Towards the second half of the set tonight the band stop playing and let Bob take the lead on an entertaining Q and A session which is a well known part of a Shellac show to old affiliates. Tonight sees lively audience members request “What’s the best AC/DC album?”, “Why do you wear those trousers?” and even a female asking “Will you party with us later?” Albini’s party days are obviously long gone (all band members are in the fifties!) as he fends this off with “We don’t use party as a verb up here” and following up by saying they are old and even referring to the owner of the question as a “young lady.” He then explains further by telling her that he is highlighting the huge age gap between her and them. It has everyone laughing and even though Bob speaks the most Albini is clearly a funny man.
“Prayer To God” is no laughing matter though with it’s lyrical content reflecting violent ex-lover revenge and is the closest we get to a Shellac sing-along song thanks to it’s “fucking kill him!” refrain. It goes down a treat, is one of their best songs and violent pogoing erupts down the front. It’s not all heads down, no-nonsense hammering away at the tunes with this ace band though – they do have some showmanship and on-stage theatrics. During Todd’s highly-skllled drum solo/song break-down mid-”Steady As She Goes” Albini and Weston disappear off the stage on their respective sides only to attack and plunge back into playing as the song takes flight once more running back on stage. “Wingwalker” is usually in the band’s set towards the end and serves as a set-staple but also is the oldest song played tonight (from the debut single “Uranus” from 1993). The sight of both Steve and Bob pretending to be planes is a thing of legend at Shellac gigs but tonight the song breaks down to a spoken-word rant by Albini where he declares “we seriously fucked-up when we invented flying!” and if he had a button he would happily wipe out the entire human race (and we’d all fight him to hit the button first!). The song returns more ferocious than before and the band have the entire audience in the palm of their hand hanging on to every word, guitar tone, bass throb or symbol crash.
“The End Of Radio” effectively closes proceedings tonight and it’s an ideal one to end with even going against the grain of a usual Shellac song’s time-length. Stretching out to near ten-minutes it sees Todd get up from his kit and parade around the stage like a madman with a lonesome snare drum during the quiet breakdown of the song. He beats it at required moments showcasing how stunningly perfect his timing is. Minimal drumming duties are even handed over to someone in the audience towards the song’s closure and later still the song sees Weston continue to play the tune’s three-chord basslines as the other two simply start to put their kit away. It’s no joke though this really is the end of the show. Bob tells us they have t-shirts to sell us at the end but only for really big or really small people (they have no size Large).
Perhaps Steve really wasn’t lying when he fended off an offer to ‘party’ saying he is old as this was one of the earliest ending gigs I’ve witnessed in a long time – it was over just after ten o’ clock!!! Earlier on Bob showed his disgust at their mates The Melvins not coming down to see them (they were playing The Fleece the next night and already in Bristol) but Steve said he wasn’t surprised joking “they are old too!” So it seems Steve Albini and chums were in for an early night tucked up with coco in their PJ’s but there was nothing lacking or half-soaked about tonight’s performance. Playing for over an hour Shellac reminded those in-the-know they are a legendary noise-rock band like no other equally deserving of the status Albini has received for his ground-breaking productions of other artists. Shellac rule – no one else comes close!
It’s always interesting for me to see how a concert sticks in my memory or how it makes me feel even weeks after the event. Sometimes I rush to review the next day but other times I wait a week or so knowing memories will still be fresh. The next day I felt privileged and grateful to have witnessed such a band at the peak of their powers and if anything I felt sad Shellac seem one of the last of a dying breed playing this type of music. Perhaps the hey-day of ‘post-hardcore’ has passed but I also felt sad I have not witnessed many of these type of bands in the past. I did see No Means No though and an unforgettable show by the mighty Fugazi once which I will never forget. A week after the show as I write this I am still feeling a nice glow and gratitude for seeing Shellac that night at The Fleece in Bristol and know full well I will jump at the chance of snapping up a ticket next time they hopefully play this side of the giant pond. For some reason too seeing Shellac that night made me dig out and play my old Fugazi albums again.
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