The last time Shellac played in Auckland it was at the beautiful Mandalay ballroom in Newmarket in March 2001. Sadly the venue is long gone, but the memory of Shellac’s angular attack and searing assault has been etched permanently in the recesses of my rock’n’roll mind.
So the return of the band led by Steve Albini – the former frontman of nice’n’nasty noise makers Big Black, producer to the stars (Nirvana’s In Utero, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, and, um, Bush), and the man whose lent a unique bite to the sound of numerous bands (Fugazi, Mogwai, and our own HDU to name a few) – is long awaited to say the least.
Indeed, that night at the Mandalay, Shellac were supported by HDU who were at the height of their volatile sonic tenure following the release of the Albani-produced Fire Works.
While HDU split up, and will reunite for next year’s Laneway, Shellac have never gone away and these days they are no different. Perhaps a little less confronting as people, but still musically abrasive, uncompromising, and riveting. It’s the sort of music that makes you feel tough.
In the 15 years since their last visit, Albini and band, also made up of drummer Todd Trainer and bass player Bob Weston, have only released two albums, including this year’s Dude Incredible. And they play some new songs, including the creepy stealth of album highlight, Riding Bikes, but the set is more of a trawl through the band’s beautifully caustic canon.
The mangled, throat wrecking shriek of Canada sets the tone for the night with classic Albini lines like, “Imagine there was a time your cigar was ironic. You’ve been at it so long, it’s chronic”.
Yet Shellac are just as capable of full blown theatrics and utter self-indulgence as they are of making their famously discordant racket.
The epic (and seemingly endless) End of Radio is a minimal masterpiece made up of Weston thrumming three chords, Albini soliloquising, and Trainer stalking the stage with a portable snare drum. It might sound a little pretentious, but it’s just Shellac toying with you, getting inside your head, and casting their spell of unease.
And besides, it’s not all serious music geek fodder. There are many laughs and even sentimental moments. During Weston’s impromptu Q&A sessions between songs we find out his favourite memory is the first time he kissed his wife.
But a Shellac show isn’t about telling stories, it’s about the songs. And few bands are capable of whipping songs into powerful pieces of ammunition like Shellac does tonight on My Black Ass from 1994’s At Action Park. It’s masterful, with guitar, drums and bass slugging it out in perfect unison.
You could even say, “Dude. Incredible”.