Friday, May 15, 2009

Clear Is A Color: Shellac @ Paradiso May 14th

Shellac: Paradiso May 14th

I could start this article by giving you the short history of Steve Albini, how he has been in the influential groups Rapemen and Big Black in the 80’s, produced albums by Nirvana, the Breeders, Page & Plant (that’s half of Led Zeppelin for the young ones among you), the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and many more. Or how his band performs when they wish without promotion, merchandising or any roadies to speak of. Or maybe his love for vinyl and that Shellac records are oftentimes released on vinyl weeks before the CD version. But let’s stick to the music this time.

Call it noise-rock or math rock, Shellac describe themselves as a minimalist rock trio. They take a minimalist, do-it yourself approach to everything they do: making up the setlist as they go along, no frills, no other instruments, no encore and no “tiny cymbals that go ‘pish’".

For a trio Shellac makes an extreme amount of noise where every instrument has an equal part. This can be seen in how they are positioned on stage. Where most often the drummer would be in the back, here he’s in the middle of the stage. The only other band where I’ve seen this is Battles where John Stanier is the man in the middle.
Drummer Todd Trainer is one of the hardest pounding drummers you will find and it’s worth just looking at him all night. His drumkit is fairly small but he hits the hell out of it. So much that you can see the woodchips fly of his already thick drumsticks.
He uses the instrument as an equal part of the band’s sound, not just for the rhythm. Besides, Shellac’s rhythms are just too weird and you can easily spot three or four time signature changes in one song. Songs that hardly ever are your standard 4/4 AABA structure. He brings color to the songs, builds the suspence and announces the arrival of either silence that can last seconds or an explosion: it might come in the form of one single note on a guitar, one thud of the bassdrum or the band might explode in unison.
In some songs Albini’s guitar will play the same notes over and over again leaving room for Trainer to fill the rest in with drumparts that are never the same, as if the drumfills were words of the lyrics; the thing you pay most attention to.

The good thing about having two producers in your band is an almost obsessive ear for sound. Rumbling but clear basslines that never distort, Albini’s screeching copper-plectrum-on-metal-strings unique guitar sound that goes right through you like a diamondsharpened circular saw, and his biting singing/shouting/speaking into the microphone. I felt it did need a few songs to get the mic adjusted right but after that the sound was pristine.

There was no setlist; the bandmembers decided on the spot what song to play. Songs from all the albums released since 1994 and a few singles like the monumental “Wingwalker”. Some short and fast, some long and monotone like “end of Radio” with a tension span of over 6 minutes before more happens than Weston’s basschords, Trainer’s snare drum and Albini shouting old bits of radio shows into the room. Easily a highlight that came at the end of the show that also had the suspenseful “Crow” and closer “Watch Song”


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