I came late to Shellac, it was the weirdest thing, I was a huge Big Black fan from the mid to late 1980s, though I never got to see them live. Big Black’s Atomizer remains what I consider one of the musical masterpieces of the 20th century. Somehow, I completely missed the boat when it came to Shellac???
My husband Shane on the other hand, discovered Shellac while on a book tour with one of his artists in Kansas City years before we met, their host gave them a cassette tape, and they listened to it all the way home. He never heard of Big Black.
I am not sure if it was the magic of the internet, or ponderous research on my part or Shane’s, or some moment when the fates took over, that I became aware that Steve Albini was in Shellac. However it happened, the fact was rediscovered by us a couple years ago in a happy accident. Not living in Chicago for some years now, it was amazing how much Shellac captured the sound of Chicago, not a sound like New York Hardcore or Dixieland Jazz, but the actual sound of the city – The sounds of the trucks and the buses and the trains, rhythm of the machines moving ever forward, the stopping and going. It was a life changing moment. Shane pointed it out while blasting Shellac from his computer after he got some new speakers for a gift.
The revelation of bands actually sounding like their region came to us after living the last few years in the Pacific Northwest and understanding much more acutely what the bands that have come from this region were documenting in the sounds of their environments – From today’s Brothers of the Sonic Cloth to Jimi Hendrix to Soundgarden, Metal Church to The Melvins, and even Nirvana, of whom I was never a fan of until we took a drive up to Aberdeen and Wash Away Beach blasting an old cassette of theirs from a thrift store, but that is another story….
I am talking about Shellac, and how incredible of an experience it was to see them live, and in of all places Eugene Oregon!
When we left from Astoria at 2:30 pm, we were already cutting it close, it’s easily a four hour drive, but on a Friday afternoon in the Summer in a tourism area, all bets are off. Then, an accident on the Youngs Bay Bridge was announced on the radio, and with the back way to Highway 101 also closed for construction, things were suddenly looking bleak. I-5 into Portland would put us in Friday rush hour traffic and that didn’t sound like fun at all! As a last ditch effort, we opted for highway 47, which we ended up taking from Clatskanie all the way south. Of course this will only make sense to those who know these roads, and likely few reading this blog do, but it is important to the story because of the anxiety related to taking a road like this in our modern freeway era. This is a roadway that separates the men from the boys – Little more than a paved logging road, mountain switchbacks with 500 foot drops straight down, and no guardrails. We were around 2000 feet up in total wilderness with only the asphalt and the clear cuts to remind us of man.
Luckily, the white knuckle ride was mostly over by the time we got through the town of Vernonia. It smoothed out even more once south of Highway 26, and I began to believe we might actually make it in time to hopefully see the entire Shellac set and maybe some of the opening performer. We passed a dozen tiny towns, people driving huge farm equipment on the road, and a whole lot of hay. We rolled past WOW Hall right about 7 pm! Not only was it an amazing drive, but it was somehow faster too!
We grabbed some great Chinese food at Lotus Garden www.lotusgardenveg.com and got to WOW Hall just as Shannon Wright was about to begin her set. I’d never heard of her, but I’ve had my head under a rock for a couple years now musically.
She was outstanding, and I wished I knew her music. It was just her, her guitar, and a collection of pedals. Her thick dark hair covered her face for most of her performance revealing only her painted mouth which melted and contorted as she performed.
The crowd in the venue was sparse, we didn’t know if that was just how Eugene was, or if it was because the Oregon Country Fair was also going on. The fair apparently draws some forty thousand people to the woods fifteen miles east of town for the entire weekend. The lack of humanity was a bonus for us, as we walked right up front while Shellac and their team set up. Up front, right against the stage for Shellac! How many can say that? Not very many. It was unreal, surreal, incredible!
When they hit the stage it was perfection, every note was precise, almost like memorex, but not – after all this was Shellac! I love Shellac for their sarcasm and wit and the wall of sound they produce, more than noise, it is amazingly complex, like the heaviest jazz you could imagine! We were thrilled to bare witness to the three masters that are Shellac, and we were so close we could have reached out and touched them. In fact, we were so close we were actually getting shards of the drum sticks pelting us during the performance!
And, speaking of drum stick shards, Todd Trainer, seriously Todd “Mother Fucking” Trainer, that guy is unbelievable! His drum set sits right in the front center stage, it shimmers white and silver glitter, with a matching stool, and guitar and bass flanking either side. The guitar the distinct and driving sound of Steve Albini, and the heaviest bass line coming from Bob Weston.
Shellac told sarcastic jokes and made fun of the “hippie fest” going on. They encouraged audience members to ask questions which they heartily did, though none of the questions were particularly impressive. So there we were, Shane and I, along with a hundred or so hippie haters, most of whom must be living quietly in the hippie capital of Eugene Oregon, all of us beaming in the factory of Shellac, where men are humble and complex, and take pride in what they do. Then, in a moment of angry zen, the entire audience sang along with of all songs “Prayer To God”!
Shellac put on an absolutely top notch show — Even though they were performing in Eugene! That I am certain of thanks to the magic of technology – we watched a youtube video of Shellac performing in Athens in April 2015 when we returned home. The show was equally as great, yet the performance was totally different, and the crowd in Athens was way bigger and a lot more lively. If you missed this tour, you should really watch that video.
- See some of the Athens show here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0AJaslVzS8
- And this performance of them in 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmy7ygXepak
After the show, we wanted to buy whatever they had, but they only had t-shirts, which they sold themselves from the front of the stage, (nope, no merch person) and they shook hands and talked to anyone who wanted to talk. So humble, so mid-western. Each thanked us personally for coming. The measly $15 they wanted for the t-shirt left us shaking our heads.
It was a mystical experience, which sounds stupid to say for a Shellac show, the seemingly least spiritual band in the world, but it is true. It was amazing. I felt like I was in my own world enjoying their performance like a fly on the wall. I was completely mesmerized by them, and could barely utter a word for the rest of the night! We were on cloud nine after the show, it was just incredible!
Thank you Shellac!