No easy way to say this: Shellac were as potent a collision of tight and rocking as I've ever seen. Flawless stop-starts, underrated melodies, hammy yet satisfying showmanship (glossed by Noodles as "guy's got a taste for drama, no?") and an unparalleled ability to sell previously unheard songs. Every bit as good as the best NoMeansNo shows I've seen, which means: as good a show as I have ever seen.
Canada*new tune (name approximated/estimated)
the watch song
steady as she goes
my black ass
he came in you*
bikes (on the wall)*
prayer to god
dog & pony show
the end of radio
o my brothers*
Shellac: a synchronic appreciation
A feature of my life to date that truly deserves the appelation so sadly fucked is that most of the great lessons of/in life I've absorbed have come via...song lyrics. A feature of my life to date that truly deserves the appelation seriously, dude, you're a pile of crap is that the bulk of those lyric lessons have been penned by lyricists like Gibby Haynes & Steve Albini. Normally I wouldn't kick--wisdom's where you find it--but Albini's first recorded lyrics included bons mot like
I've never hung a darkie, even a big one So...you know...a little defensive.
I've never seen an Indian on a horse
now I got an engine
a big perverted engine
that runs on strength of will
do you get the same jokes as me?
do you get the jokes the same as me?
wrote him a letter
said I'll never come home
he never sent it
but he wrote it again and again
stacked up to the ceiling
then another stack
he burned them all winter
Shellac: a diachronic appreciation
Every Shellac release I own is a sun-like locus of memories, with planet-anecdotes orbiting. I frequently forget how much I like this band. I always forget to put them on, but whenever shuffle finds them, my moment improves. I won't miss them live, either.
Singles & At Action Park
A dipshit, I missed the initial singles at the time--a bigger dipshit, I now own multiple identical copies of them, in case of...needing...multiple...copies of the same 7"--and had to be turned on to At Action Park by some buddies. I bought my own copy with a copy of Big Black's Songs About Fucking the same day, put them on a cassette, and spent most of a year listening to little else. To this day, I remember the warehouses I'd walk by on the way to work, headphones on, boots thumping over the three miles no matter the weather, from cold forcing breath to congeal to ice in my beard to diagonal thunderstorms, to arid Denver heat, 1996 grinding away under the weight of my failures, herky-jerky stabs at adulthood and art, violent spasms toward attempts to be a good person, at long last, warehouses and train tracks trudging by morning after morning as I'd walk to work.
The singles--Uranus, with the impeccable "Doris" and "Wingwalker", and A Pictorial History of the Rude Gesture, with top-5-favorite-song-of-all-time "the rambler song" and whatever else is on it--I had a special relationship with from the beginning. Instantly I knew I didn't actually want to play them that often: they're special, and need to be reserved for those times a man truly needs a piece of art capable of frank absolution. One year, probably 1996 or 1997, I drunkenly called my friends who'd turned me on to Shellac and left a message along the lines of
Hey...guys...just...thinking about friends...and a cigar...a good cigar now and again...For whatever reason, the best way I could think of to communicate my love for my friends was quoting Steve Albini lyrics from "the billiard player song". I think I've come a long way.
Somehow, in that largely pre-Internet age, everybody I knew knew the new Shellac was going to drop. I think I preordered it from Jackpot on Hawthorne in Portland, but fucked up and didn't get in on the first batch, so had to wait for the second. When 1000 Hurts arrived, everybody--everybody--was listening to it. You couldn't set foot on campus without hearing (somebody talk about) "prayer to god". I wore it out. Probably we all did.
Comparatively, Terraform was a massive disappointment. The two longest songs were static exercises, 12 minutes and 7 minutes of difficult-to-play and difficult-to-listen-to slow technicalisms that please no record owner. I told people often that, minus those two songs, it would have been a phenomenal EP, and I took immense pleasure from the frankly poppy put-down "copper", savage riff showcase and Albini standby diss track "Canada" and ventriloquism hatchet job "mouthpiece". At a time when my consumption of new music had essentially flatlined, this platter was a piss-poor lifeline into productive consumption; but I still listened to it a lot, and it still taught me who the amazing Cheley Bonestall is/was.
Excellent Italian Greyhound
Then...nothing. For years, nothing. They played a pair of memorable shows in Portland, including a couple new songs, and shot their mouths off about "yeah, the new album exists, and we'll release it when we feel like it." Eventually, they felt like it. As a product, Excellent Italian Greyhound skews 'way closer to Terraform than to At Action Park, but still includes a handful of my favorite Shellac songs, which means it still includes a handful of my favorite songs.
I put it on the jukebox at the bar I worked at, and took infinite comfort in those depressed years from stompers like "be prepared" and the second-best bass solo ever, in "boycott". At the shows, their long, slow, methodical versions of "the end of radio" taught me what they'd been up to with the disappointing numbers on Terraform: a platform for performativity, a framework for stringing an audience along and compelling maximal attention to minimal information, demanding total focus in case the band/song changes. It works beautifully live--"the end of radio" has happied me every time I've heard it played--and nearly reverses my opinion on the real estate it occupies on wax.