Shellac December 13th and 14th at 9 p.m., December 15th and 16th at noon and 9 p.m. $12. Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave.; 773-227-4433.
Excellent Italian Greyhound, the first Shellac record in seven years, contains the familiar hallmarks of the Chicago underground rock band: Steve Albini’s knotty guitar licks and agitated talk-singing; Bob Weston’s hefty, chugging bass lines; and Todd Trainer’s terse drum patterns. There’s a great-er spaciousness between those elements than on past albums, though—a give-and-take that’s particularly evident in the record’s eight-minute death-march opener, “The End of Radio,” and in the ebb and flow of the instrumental compositions.
It’s the sound of band members relishing their own interplay, the pleasure of making music together. In order to maximize that precious chemistry, the band chose to perform a six-show residency in the intimate Hideout in December rather than play one gig at a larger club. “There’s more energy flowing between the band and the audience in both directions when we’re all so close,” Weston says. “We play better when we feel that interaction.”
Paradoxically, the group’s dynamic also accounts for the long lag between records and sporadic concert appearances. Shellac’s members deliberately intend the project to be an occasional release from their day jobs rather than a full-time commitment. “If it were to become my job, just as a matter of course I would end up hating it and resenting it, the way anyone resents his job,” says Albini, who owns the local recording studio Electrical Audio and is a highly sought record producer. (Journalistic convention requires a mention of Albini’s work with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and on Nirvana’s In Utero.)
By giving itself room to explore and exchange, Shellac has kept its music fresh through the long layoffs. The songs on Greyhound run a gamut of challenging subjects, from the isolation and futility of “The End of Radio” to the vaudeville humor of “Be Prepared” (“I was born already bald—be prepared!") to the sexual derision of “Genuine Lullabelle” (as much a critique of its narrator as the woman he’s describing). “We cover a lot of territory,” Albini says. “We’re of the opinion that there’s no part of the range of human feeling or emotion that’s off limits.”
Photography: Courtesy of Touch and Go