The Talented Mr Albini

The¬†Shellac show at the New Parish in Oakland a couple of weeks ago was a fascinating combination of “purity” and “richness”.¬†I’ve not really heard much stuff by Steve Albini – I’m obviously aware of his status in the music world, but it’s not really the kind of thing I’m into, so it’s passed me by. But I’m now definitely a fan of his style.

I’ve been to the New Parish before – it’s a pretty good music venue in downtown Oakland, with a small stage, mezzanine with seats, and a good outdoor area to cool off or smoke if you need to. It’s a pretty standard place, all told, down to the red and black color scheme of their website (so beloved of independent venues).

Cassie and I went for dinner at the restaurant next door first, which gave show-goers a free drink when you produced a ticket. We thought it meant you could get a beer, but it meant a specific drink – in this case it was some kind of boozy fruit punch, which was fine. It’s a Carribean-Creole place anyway, so exotic was in. While I paid the bill, C got in the line, and I was just signing when she called me out because the line was moving. I jumped up, knocked two half-full water glasses down my trousers, said “shit” very firmly, and dashed out.

So it was that I saw Shellac with damp legs.

 First up was Helen Money РFriend James had recommended we get there in time to see her play her electrical cello. I enjoyed the set. She uses the tools of the lead guitarist Рeffects pedals, loopers and the like Рto make a variety of interesting sounds. Starting with a looped bass note, she would layer distorted pluckings or scrapings, and then kick in with a boosted melody. Some of the (songs? pieces? ugh not pieces) were more melodic, others were more atmospheric, some were pure noise. All good.

She left the stage, and there was a break while Shellac set up – and it was a surprise to see just that: Albini, Weston and Trainer on stage, plugging in and setting up. The crowd were too cool to react – other gigs go wild when the band take the stage. Instead we saw Albini and Weston setting up their disticntive metal-topped amps and cut-out Travis Bean aluminium¬†guitar and bass. Trainer’s drum kit was front and center, with symmetrical cymbals either side.

Mid-set, Weston took questions while Albini tuned up. This was a fun section, and I’m glad the location of Uffizi was inquired after – Uffizi is of course Todd Trainer’s beloved Italian Greyhound, and the cover star of Shellac’s last album Excellent Italian Greyhound.

As for the music, of course the only song I really know is Prayer To God, which was a real singalongacrowdpleaser. I guess they just enjoyed yelling “fuckin’ kill him already” repeatedly. Dog and Pony Show was a highlight, as was¬†an extended and rarified version of The End Of Radio. I’ve found myself humming Crow, or at least muttering the lyrics to myself.

There was a moshpit! Cute, I’ve not seen one of those for a long time. One guy with long glossy golden locks seemed very intent on getting in there and waving his tresses hither and thither. The mohawk dude was right up front. I’m pretty certain Milton Waddams was in there somewhere. Weird mishmash.

What’s this about purity and richness? I guess I mean the “purity” of just three guys, the “minimalist rock trio”, simple instruments, raw sound, lyrics stated more than sung, and how they managed to provide a loud, complex, rolling, juddering, warped (in some cases by bending the guitar itself, I think) and complete sound.

After the show we got another example of the non-showbiz of Shellac РAlbini and Weston sat on the front of the stage and sold tshirts and chatted with gig-goers. I bought a black-on-black shirt, told Albini my wife loved him, he said she had good taste, we shook hands. Nice chap.

Here’s some other Albini stuff: a rather dark¬†diary of the final tour by Big Black, where he lays into all sorts of industry people, other bands (including “Mitzi Ebb“) and describes his wading through the seedy underbellies of various cities, including a gig in a bar in Manchester that I used to go to… On a much different note, Albini has a¬†food blog, in which he describes the dishes he makes for his wife. Real change of pace. And just to round it out, here’s a link to a poker forum in which he suddenly announces who he is and takes questions on the music biz, recording, contracts, ripoffs and so on.

Good gig, good venue. We’ve got Wilco in January, bit that’ll be very musical. We’ll see.