This Isn’t Some Kind of Metaphor; This Is Real
Shellac paints Eugene sarcastic
by Vanessa Salvia
At a University of Minnesota show during his Big Black days, Steve Albini walked onstage with a string of Chinese firecrackers. He lit them, threw them into the crowd and walked offstage. In the ensuing panic and under cover of smoke, Big Black emerged and launched into “Steelworker,” a song with lyrics suggesting that working class people are animals.
This is Steve Albini — a button-pusher, shit-stirrer and, as far as popular rumor goes, an abrasive dick in person and in his music. Add in his recording work for the likes of Nirvana, Pixies, Stooges, Low, Neurosis, The Jesus Lizard, Slint and PJ Harvey, and Steve Albini cannot be fucked with.
Yet in his own recorded music, from Big Black to the controversial Rapeman to Shellac’s angular, sarcastic punk rock, Albini presents an image as the angry but often helpless geek, an A/V club president gone bad. Albini doesn’t so much sing as rant, calling upon God when he wants something really dirty done, such as when he’s scheming for the deaths of an ex-girlfriend and her lover in the song “Prayer to God.” On “End of Radio,” from Shellac’s latest recording, Excellent Italian Greyhound, Albini is a DJ spinning records for no one, screaming “Can you hear me now?” repeatedly over a primitive, bluesy rhythm section. “Hey, hey, this is a real goddamn emergency,” he froths to a seemingly deserted planet.
The whole of Excellent Italian Greyhound is hilariously dour, from the pooch cover model to the oddly indebted Fugazi quote opening “Elephant” and the final notes of “Spoke,” with drums tripping over a minimalist groove constructed of razors and wire, Albini and bassist Bob Weston both screaming unintelligibly.
Shellac rarely tour, so when they do, it’s an event. This time, they’ve brought along Touch and Go Records labelmates Arcwelder to open. Arcwelder assemble songs from elements similar to Minneapolis’ ugly noise bands such as Cows and Guzzard, minus the thuggish aesthetic of most of AmRep’s catalog.
The fact that Shellac was only intended as a hobby band for Albini and the other members, and that fans waited seven years between the release of 1000 Hurts (the title itself a geeky insider joke for a sound engineer) and their latest offering, has made no dent in their popularity. Albini does what he does, and he remains challenging as ever.
Shellac, Arcwelder. 9 pm Monday, June 15. WOW Hall • $12 adv., $15 door