Friday, June 19, 2009

Indie Rock

Shellac / Arcwelder
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
June 18, 2009

For the newbies: Shellac is fronted by Steve Albini... who also fronted Big Black in the 80's... and who has produced a staggering number of albums by the likes of Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Pixies, Superchunk, The Jesus Lizard, High On Fire, Cheap Trick, Flogging Molly, Mogwai, Neurosis... among others.

Trivia: Although Umlaut has a Metal reputation, the truth is my Metal Years spiked when I was, like, in my early-20's. Yes, I've gravitated back to Metal in recent years but, truth be told, the late-80's / early-90's Indie Rock scene is just as important to me as Old Metal. Dude, I was way into most of the Touch & Go and Amphetamine Reptile bands... WAY.. and those bands were a huge part of the soundtrack to the original xeroxed 'zine version of Umlaut.

Anyway, fast forward to the 21st Century and this was the last night of Shellac's packed 2-night stand at the Great American, which was part of their current 11 shows in 7 cities U.S. Tour; the last time Shellac toured was 4 years ago. Having two longtime Touch & Go bands like Shellac and Arcwelder on the bill gave this show a circa 1994 Midwest Indie Rock vibe, which was cool. These are the type of band that "Indie Rock" used to represent: bands who wield volume deftly and who are profound in their aggression. They are the complete opposite of the neutered pussy stuff that defines "Indie Rock" here in the 21st Century.

Arcwelder were one of those Touch & Go bands who I didn't really follow back in The Day but they were great... like Hüsker Dü's younger cousin visiting San Francisco for the first time.. wide eyed and excited and wrapped in that 1994 Midwest Indie Rock aura. Good stuff.

Onstage, Shellac's signature bass and guitar tones via Albini and Bob Weston's Travis Beans create a glorious wall of volume behind Todd Trainer's freight train drumming. I was tripping how the Travis Beans (with their mostly aluminum construction) don't sound like other guitars; the chords erupt from the instruments more from a vibration of metal instead of resonating from wood... This was especially powerful when Albini would hit a chord to wrestle feedback from his metal axe and it sounded like a metallic animal being unleashed from its steel cage... and the leash keeping the volume beast focused was Trainer's steady work with the sticks that was equal parts Punk and Jazz.

Shellac also display that trait I love about alot of the old school Noise bands: They don't just slash and burn with volume and feedback, but they also lay it all down into a groove versus just pounding it out. At around 10:50PM the band launched into the volume groove godhead that is 'Steady As She Goes' and my evening was complete.

As is a tradition with Shellac, Weston did a brief mid-set Q&A session with the audience.. with questions ranging from inquiries about the band's amps to a question about his favorite type of sausage from a specific brand (a Midwest brand I assume.. but I didn't catch the name).. For the record, Bob listed his favorites as Elk, Buffalo, and a couple of other cloven hoofed animals... and Albini chimed in that his favorite sausage is the Unicorn. Yummy!

After 90 minutes of blow torching the stage, and as the final song melted down to a close, Albini and Weston started to dismantle the drum kit as Trainer kept a beat on the snare... until even that was taken away. Thankyougoodnight!

There seemed to be an unusual number of dorky guys wearing glasses in the crowd (guilty!). If you bought one of every Shellac merch item you would have paid NOTHING; the band refused to sell any because they didn't want to pay the GAMH its standard merch percentage. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. For the newbies: Yes, venues take a cut of band's merch sales... Everyone wants a piece of the pie, kids.