live review

Shellac and Thurston Moore

Shellac and Thurston Moore

Reviewed by Bruce Wurr
8th December 2015

Auckland had the pleasure of two great American guitar bands in one week, and they were both contrasting and enthralling, right down to the difference between the venues. It has been a long time since either Shellac or Thurston Moore have visited New Zealand, but each time the respective acts have played scintillating shows.

So expectations were high (as was the crowd age!), and I was not disappointed either night.

Shellac first, playing the Kings Arms on a Tuesday night, didn't have the most auspicious of starts, with a specialised amp transformer failing and a replacement being called in. By the time they hit the stage half-an-hour later we were definitely ready, and definitely a bit more lubricated. What followed was a steady Shellac set, surprisingly a little sloppy in places (they are a math rock influence after all) - but a steady Shellac set kills most other bands and is always enjoyable.

Starting with 'My Black Ass', liberally sprinkled with back catalogue songs like 'Steady As She Goes' (a personal favourite), 'Doris/Wingwalker', the Prayer song etc and rounded off with tracks from last year's Dude Incredible, the predominantly male audience were for the most part blown away, apart from the odd misguided individual ("I paid to hear you play guitar, not speak" - well pal, you're at the wrong show). The band were warm, funny and receptive, not always terms associated with Steve Albini in the press, but they are more than generous in their gigs. Their musicianship is excellent, and hearing Steve Albini's guitar sound live sends shivers down the spine, especially with the distortion pedal engaged to his distinctive buzz saw sound.

Overall very satisfactory, unmissable you might say, and the beginning of four hangovers last week. I'm sorry to say I missed (no pun intended) most of Miss June, but what I did hear sounded tight and pretty swell.

The third hangover was caused at the Tuning Fork on Thursday night, which saw Thurston Moore take the stage with another stellar band, this one consisting of Steve Shelley (like Todd Trainer a legendary and skillful drummer), Debbie Googe (ex My Bloody Valentine) on bass and James Sedwards on guitar accompaniment.

Support came in the form of Echo Ohs, performing a great blend of mystery and surf to an appreciative crowd. One thing I certainly appreciated was the early and adhered to set times as well!

Now, I happen to like the Tuning Fork, although it does seem to have its detractors, but for me there is clear lines of sight, good sound, and a bar and toilet actually accessible during the gig. All of these factors were present as the crowd swelled with numbers, this time slightly younger and more of a gender balance. Most were fans if not of Thurston, then definitely of Sonic Youth, so the opening five minutes that filled with dissonant free noise only unsettled the minority. This shifted gear to what would become the pattern of the night - a driving engine room (bass and drums), repetitive melodies and swelling waves of music, often shifting to different songs within the original song, always returning to a reference point when Thurston saw the need.

The gig was billed as including Sonic Youth material, but perhaps due to my ignorance (and their large back catalogue!) it seemed all Thurston solo material, which is definitely not a bad thing. He performs with a punky swagger at times, maybe the eternal teenager he resembles, then switching hats and turning his back moves into hypnotic patterns that seem to repeat endlessly. At times you almost sigh with relief as the song moves back to a comfortable space after drifting high and wide, other times you embrace the odd tuning and shapes. There is never a chance to be bored or distracted.

The crowd in turn were warm and responsive, and the band returned the favour, greeting people after the gig, shaking hands and talking to anyone who approached. In fact Shellac also did the same which speaks volumes about the generosity of these two veteran acts.

A great week, one I hope is repeated many times.




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