Speakers Push Air

December 28, 2007, 12:00 pm
Filed under: 2007 Top 20

So I mentioned that my favourite live act in the world (ever? Maybe since Thin Lizzy, anyway…) would appear later in this chart. And here they are…

It’s a no-brainer, really. Shellac really are the most consistently incredible live act I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen them a lot. It’s the most intense, most scathing but then often the funniest gig in town (at their last London show at Koko in the summer, from where the pic above was taken), Todd Trainer – for my money the finest drummer in the world – stepped up to offer a 5 minute talk / rant about JUST how hard he rocks. From when he wakes in the morning, to when he (eventually) goes to sleep. He just rocks. Before Albini and Weston took his drums away (again)…

Shellac rarely make records (4 in 15 years or so) and none have really matched their live show, which is peculiar when you know how Albini records, how slavishly he looks for a perfect recreation of a band’s live sound. I guess so much of their performance is visual, despite how unassuming the three of them are. The set-up onstage is always identical (perhaps because Trainer is alleged to have some kind of OCD which means he needs that kind of order around him). Albini will be on the left, his guitar strapped round his waist in that singular fashion, legs spread, rocking back and forth, grabbing the mic. Weston will be right – upright, unmoving, strangely avuncular. Trainer in the middle, mouth drooping open as he batters his drumkit. Behind them will be a set of large handbuilt silver amps with nothing on them but a volume knob. But as unremarkable a proposition as this seems, they’re just the most engaging experience. And I guess that’s what gets lost on record.

For the record, this is probably the weakest of Shellac’s albums. But in the broader scheme of things, that’s no big deal.

For a band that releases so little, it seems odd that there’s already a formula (the first album perhaps not so much). There’s always a couple of basic hardcore tracks (better than everyone else’s hardcore tracks, though), a couple of makeweights – instrumentals, noodles, joke tracks. And then there’s two or three tracks that take my fucking skin off. Excellent Italian Greyhound is no exception. The punk songs are punk as fuck, the noodles are tight as hell and work pretty well. And then there’s the two emotional centres of the record: Genuine Lulabelle reminds me of Billiard Player Song (their finest track and one which, live, sees Albini tell this seemingly endlessly unfolding story, one I’ve been hearing him expand live or via bootleg for over a decade), or of Hold On (the ‘missing’ song from Excellent Italian Greyhound: many of these songs have been kicking around live for over ten years, and Hold On was one such that everyone assumed would end up here). The other is The End of Radio – the best thing on the album, and probably the finest track of the year by anyone. It’s Albini imagining that he’s the last man on earth and that he’s broadcasting to nobody, nobody at all. Nods to Roadrunner, another monologue that live is always a little different, it’s epic and it’s moving and it rocks. Inevitably, this is the track I’m posting, although perversely it’s not the album version.

Just after John Peel’s death, Shellac played a live show at the BBC and dedicated The End of Radio to the DJ. Being a sentimental old fucker, this version gets me every time. (Disappointingly, Albini’s increasingly scurrilous comments about Martina Navratilova are toned down on this version).

Shellac – The End Of Radio (Peel Session 2004)
from the album Excellent Italian Greyhound (Touch & Go Records)

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