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Baseball, Motherhood, and Punk

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SHELLAC, MX-80, TAR, SIX FINGER SATELLITE

LOGAN SQUARE AUDITORIUM, SEPTEMBER 4

A sign tacked up in the women's bathroom of the Logan Square Auditorium says that the hall is available for "weddings, anniversaries, showers, fashion shows, parties, private functions, fundraising, etc." I guess the Pine Tar .406, a musical extravaganza put on by local indie-rock sensation Steve Albini and friends, would fall under the heading of "etc."

America's pastime was the theme of this Albini-palooza. The title was a reference to Ted Williams's 1941 batting average. All four bands on the bill--Six Finger Satellite, Tar, MX-80, and Shellac--wore baseball uniforms. Peanuts and hot dogs were sold, and recorded snippets of baseball crowd noise were played between sets. And what quadruple-header would be complete without the national anthem? The mellow crowd was treated to nicely sung versions of both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "O Canada" by a lady vocalist in a silk dress and pearls. The Pine Tar .406 really was just good old-fashioned fun for the whole family, right down to the friendly and low-key volunteer staff (which included the parents of Tar's Tom Zaluckyj--his mom sold hot dogs and his dad, a Chicago cop, helped out with security).

The Logan Square Auditorium is a high-ceilinged square space that holds about a thousand people. As it happens, it's painted in the exact same color scheme--pale pink with white trim--as my parents' bedroom. Despite being festooned with red, white, and blue bunting for the occasion, it still managed to look like the kind of place where ballroom dancing, not indie rocking, should take place.

One of the most important points about the whole affair was this: no moshing took place. Go figure--moshing now takes place at Buffalo Tom concerts, but not at Shellac shows. How strangely our culture evolves. The audience's advanced average age (golly, probably all of 27) and its low-key, seen-it-all, urban demeanor ensured that politeness and attentiveness ruled the day. These were people who had nothing to prove to anyone by throwing their bodies around where they weren't wanted.

As the sun set over Logan Square, Six Finger Satellite, a four-piece from Rhode Island, started the show off on a strange note. Their specialty is a demented sort of neo-surf music undercut by scratchy guitar and overlaid with plaintive keyboards. I got the impression that the crowd didn't quite know what to make of their driving, retro-Yello art-punk melange, but since the singer was one of those screamer types, they clapped at the end of every song. If there was one thing all four bands had in common--and apparently this is a quality that lots of cutting-edge music fans like--it was that none of the vocalists actually, um, sing. I personally thought the band's quirky music was far more compelling when this caterwauling David Yow wannabe wasn't putting his mouth anywhere near the microphone.

Tar, the second band on the bill, gave a fine demonstration of their unswerving brand of dense, driving rock--when the sound system was cooperating with them, that is. One of the dangers of an independent affair such as this is unforeseen technical snafus. Both Tar and Six Finger Satellite endured repeated circuit-breaker blowouts during their sets, which resulted in the loss of vocals and/or bass in the sound mix. Apparently the combination of all that power-sucking equipment and all those warm bodies (and despite it being a cool night, it did get hot in there) was more than the auditorium's overworked electrical system could take. Eventually the circuit box in the corner of the room was just left open, with one of the concessions people fanning it occasionally. But the audience's patience with the DIY nature of the affair was rewarded: the last two bands on the bill, MX-80 and Shellac, didn't have any sound problems.

I have to admit that I was sort of hoping for a technical glitch of some kind during MX-80's seemingly endless set. MX-80 is one of those obscure bands reverentially referred to in some quarters as influential. They droned on and on in that grating late-70s art-rocky sort of way. The singer can't sing, so he substitutes a nasal mantra tone when he's not doing some half-baked spoken-word recitation. In that wedding cake of a hall, with the singer wailing on a klezmer-sounding sax-type thing, I felt like I was at some weird, alternate-universe wedding reception from hell.

Shellac is a band for people who don't like their brains the way they are and want them rearranged by means of elaborate and relentless staccato rhythms. After warming up with some pregame stretches (performed to the accompaniment of profanity-laced baseball commentary tapes) and doing a swell imitation of a drunken Harry Caray doing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the three-piece of Bob Weston on bass, Todd Trainer on drums, and performance artist and sometime producer Albini on guitar launched into some of the most powerful, precise, uncompromising music you're ever likely to hear. It was as if the band was working out some highly personal mathematical algorithms through music, and it was quite compelling.

Despite his reputation as a bit of a loudmouth, Albini was funny and self-deprecating between songs. He informed the audience that souvenir baseballs signed by all the bands on the bill would be sold after Shellac's set. "We didn't sell them before because we didn't want to get hit by them," he remarked dryly. At the conclusion of Shellac's brain-pounding set, he sincerely thanked everyone for coming and asked that concertgoers be respectful of the neighborhood as they left the show.

And they were. How punk rock.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Liz Clayton.

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