Shellac @ First Avenue Mainroom
September 1st, 2012
Saturday night was an evening of pulverizing rhythms and jagged atonality at First Avenue's Mainroom. Local quintet STNNNG began the night with abandon, channeling the Jesus Lizard in sound as well as attitude and stage presence. Their set ended with a surprising cover of AC/DC's "Have A Drink On Me". Bellini took the stage next, a group hailing from Catania, Sicily, Italy. Their only non-Italian member is Alexis Fleisig, better known as the drummer for Girls Against Boys. They had a presence like none other - middle-aged Italians playing noise rock that sounds like it's straight from New York in the 80's.
Shellac emerged promptly at 9 p.m. and swiftly ran through a set of songs that spanned practically their entire discography to a venue that was near capacity. I should backtrack to mention that the premise of this show is as a part of their "20th Anniversary Tour" - but since this is Shellac and they do it their way, the tour was composed of three dates in their hometown of Chicago and one date in Minneapolis (most likely because drummer Todd Trainer hails from here and the Twins are one of Steve Albini's favorite baseball teams). Despite the exclusive nature of the show, the ticket was still a mere $12. Between songs bassist Bob Weston would ask the audience if anyone had a question, creating some amusing and snappy banter including Albini obliging to tell his favorite joke (which I wouldn't dare reprint here) as well as ridiculing a fan for requesting a song by one of his previous endeavors. Albini and Weston had nearly identical gear rigs: each had an Electrical Guitar Company instrument, an amp composed of two cabs with a head that only had one knob. Albini had only two pedals. The stage lights stayed on the entire time; there was no light show to speak of. They didn't have a setlist, instead opting to convene at the center of the stage between songs to discuss what should be played next. It's easy to understand why they refer to themselves as a "minimalist rock trio". Their final song ended with Albini and Weston setting their instruments down and deconstructing Trainer's drumset as he played it until he was left with just his sticks. They then moved their gear off the stage and jumped down in to the gap between the crowd barrier and the stage to interact directly with fans. Albini personally handled the merchandise sales. They're cocky and snarky, sure, but there really isn't any rock star attitude going on here. In an era when indie bands with one album under their belt can charge over twice as much for a ticket, a show such as this one was surprisingly refreshing. It's just difficult not to admire their steadfast commitment to the DIY aesthetic that they've now maintained for two decades. Happy birthday, Shellac.
Written by Tom Steffes, Radio K volunteer