Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Albini gives heckler a good Shellac-ing

Concert review

By Chris Varias
Enquirer contributor

        Steve Albini is a post-punk icon for two reasons. His 1980s band Big Black took a drum machine and screeching guitars and concocted a whole new sound yet to be matched. And his body of work as an indie-rock record producer towers above that of his competitors.

        But all of that usually means very little when he's playing live with his current band, Shellac.

        Usually, anyway.

        At Shellac's Sunday night show at the Southgate House things were humming along nicely. Mr. Albini, who sings and plays guitar, plus bassist Bob Weston and drummer Todd Trainer were running through a set sampling the band's three albums, a few singles and a couple of unreleased tunes. Most everything featured the band's giant-size riffs and intricate and surprising time changes.

        Then the head on Mr. Trainer's bass drum broke. Mr. Albini announced they'd be able to do only one more song, and some heckler piped up. The unidentified shirtless man was mouthing off through the night, but this time he meant business.

        There are actually three areas in which Mr. Albini has achieved icon status, the third being his adept handling of hecklers. He has a way of instantly making them feel this (thumb and index finger held 2 inches apart) small.

        Mr. Albini stepped to the mic and addressed his subject. “You've been a pain in our ass all night. Twenty dollars will get you high as hell for the rest of the night,” he said, pulling a bill from his pocket. “Take this and (take) off out of here.” Loud crowd applause followed.

        The heckler accepted the money, but he didn't leave, instead offering a retort: “Kurt Cobain would be so disappointed in you if he were here,” referring to the deceased singer who handpicked Mr. Albini to record his band Nirvana's last studio album.

        “Kurt Cobain was disappointed in me when he was alive, why would it be any different now?” asked Mr. Albini.

        The crowd was riled up by this point. Again, Mr. Albini took control.

        He introduced the next song, which was to be the last, with some poignant thoughts about another dead singer, the Minutemen's D. Boon. The crowd fell silent as he spoke and didn't utter a word during the song.

        As the crowd cheered politely at the end, Shellac broke into a bonus tune, a rowdy number about an Italian porn star seeking his fortune in America, and the crowd rocked along with them. It all went to prove Mr. Albini can produce a good record much like he produces interesting reactions out of an audience.


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