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‘Pig Pile’: Big Black live on their final tour, with members of Wire, 1987
07.23.2014
09:23 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Big Black
Wire
Steve Albini


 
In 1992, five years after their breakup in the wake of their amazing LP Songs About Fucking, the influential and scathing post-hardcore pioneers Big Black released a boxed set called Pig Pile, which featured a shirt, a poster, a VHS tape, a vinyl LP, and a clear-vinyl 5” single. The LP and VHS were documents of the band’s July 1987 concert at London’s Hammersmith Clarendon, and the 5” was a totally incongruous cover of the Mary Jane Girls’ “In My House.”
 

In My House by Big Black on Grooveshark

 
Yyyyyyyep.

Talking to NME about the show, the band’s singer/guitarist Steve Albini had this to offer:

We made a splash immediately before we broke up; now a band starts shopping its demos to majors after its third rehearsal. By the end, I think we improved; on the live record and video we were probably as good as we were ever gonna be. That gig was exciting—there was this giant belch and everyone involved in this giant belch felt immensely relieved afterwards.

 

 
It was indeed a hell of a belch. The band at its height was known for a relentlessly concussive and scarifying musical blitz—Albini’s guitar tone alone could practically sever limbs—paired with true-story lyrics that unflinchingly detailed the most reprehensible of human behaviors, often to genuinely chilling effect. The videotape and album show the band slaying an excoriating best-of set, and for their encore, a cover of Wire’s “Heartbeat,” they were joined onstage by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis in what must have been a fan-fantasy score of a lifetime. The LP was rereleased as a CD in short order, and inevitably came out on vinyl again in the ‘oughts, but the video has never been reissued in any format. Per the band’s label, Touch and Go records,

In 1992, Touch and Go released a Big Black live album and video, titled Pig Pile, that were recorded (mostly) in 1987 during Big Black’s final tour. Someday, we might release the video on DVD. Until then, please don’t ask us about it.

As of this writing, used copies of the complete set are being offered on discogs.com for between $60 USD (box condition fair, shirt worn) and well over $200. But if you’re really that hot to watch it, and you don’t mind tiny and fuzzy, here it is.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘Shellac Pistols’: Shellac and David Yow do the Sex Pistols, 1998
Awkward, hilarious interview with Steve Albini
Absolute Nirvana: new Steve Albini mixes push in utero anniversary set into essential territory

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Shellac Pistols’: Shellac and David Yow do the Sex Pistols, 1998

Shellac / Sex Pistols
 
On Halloween night of 1998, Shellac and David Yow of Scratch Acid/Jesus Lizard fame indulged their silly side, pretending to be The Sex Pistols for a set of scorching music. The location was Lounge Ax, the legendary venue on 2438 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago that had been pummeling audiences with awesome music since 1987. (It closed in 2000; you might remember it as the venue in High Fidelity where John Cusack first meets Lisa Bonet.)

The first performers were Ms. Fits, an all-female Misfits cover band. During their set, Shellac’s Steve Albini stood right in the middle of the audience “to loudly support” the openers, who were facing “a tough crowd.” The middler, Sixto, featured members from Seam and Dis—they’re still active, at least judging by their bandcamp page.

When the crew put up three microphones for the final set, a rumor briefly flared up that this was going to be a Big Black reunion. What the audience got was a lot more special than that: Shellac with David Yow as a spot-on Johnny Rotten doing most of the songs off of Never Mind the Bollocks. Bob Weston was Sid Vicious, Todd Trainer was Paul Cook on drums, and Albini was Steve Jones.
 
David Yow as Johnny Rotten
 
An attendee of the show submitted the following account:
 

David Yow stalked onto the stage, in full 1970’s-era Johnny Rotten attire to the letter. Bleached and spiked hair, psychotically glaring at the audience, the whole nine yards. He’d done his homework on this one. He was followed by the three Shellacs, with Steve Albini doing his best Steve Jones in vinyl pants (!) and a red doo-rag on his head. Bob Weston *was* Sid Vicious, in spiked black hair, mesh shirt (with scratches and scars visible underneath), glassy-eyed, and an impressively bloody IV bandage on his arm. Only Todd Trainer seemed to buck the whole Pistols image. I mean, he could have found one of those big sweaters or something. Paul Cook had style too.

Anyway, they ripped into “Holidays in the Sun”, and that set the tone for the evening. Yow had Rotten’s nasal Brit accent down pat, even in song. He pulled the whole thing off so well, I tell ya. Weston kept coughing up “blood” and running into things. Steve’s guitar sounded kind of sloppy, but I don’t think Jones could have done it any better. Between songs the band taunted the audience in mock cockney accents, Steve asking if there were “any PAA-ties about”. The audience responded by throwing chunks of a dismembered jack-o-lantern at the band.

The setlist was confined to material from Never Mind the Bollocks, including “Bodies”, “Submission”, “Anarchy in the U.K.”, and closing with “God Save the Queen”. Yow seemed to remember the words to them better than he remembers the words to Jesus Lizard songs.

Yow ended the evening by asking, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” and the band walked offstage, barely an hour after they started. For a long time, nobody left. The house lights came up and nobody left. Todd Trainer started taking his drum set apart and people booed. It finally registered that that was the evening, that they weren’t going to get anymore, and they weren’t getting any Shellac songs.

 
As attendee Andy Larson wrote ten years later to the day, “steve albini said something like ‘does anyone know where there’s a party about?’ in a british accent—and i believe only that. walking up lincoln ave. after the show i passed bob weston (sid vicious) and said ‘hey—great show’ and he said “right” in a british accent.”

There’s no video of the show, and scarcely any pictures—at least on the Internet. The b/w shot above is the only one I could find. There is, however, fairly good audio, which you can download here in flac format.
 

Setlist:
1. Holidays In The Sun
2. Bodies
3. Pretty Vacant
4. Seventeen
5. Sub-mission
6. New York
7. Anarchy In The U.K.
8. God Save The Queen

 
The poster for the show was done by Illinois gig poster legend Jay Ryan of The Bird Machine. The poster run had a limited run of only 100 pressings, which combined with the specialness of the gig makes this an extremely hard-to-get item.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Flaming Lips, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, & more: 1991 comp CD accurately predicted ‘90s indie rock

Wayne Coyne double neck
 
In August of 1991, a month before Nevermind was released, and when hair metal was still pretty much the only thing on the radio that bore any resemblance to rock, a tiny indie label called No.6 Records released a compilation of guitar instrumentals called Guitarrorists. It featured names that would be familiar only to resolute undergroundists at the time, but many of them would soon find mainstream attention—these guitarists were members of bands like Afghan Whigs, The Butthole Surfers, The Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and other, less immortal bands that would nonetheless experience some success within a few years of the comp’s release. And it should go without saying that a lot of it is fantastic.
 
Guitarrorists CD Cover
 
Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne’s “I Want to Kill My Brother: The Cymbal Head” is an insane, noisy, and dynamic journey through Coyne’s very strange mind:
 

Wayne Coyne - “I Want to Kill My Brother: The Cymbal Head”

Big Black/Rapeman/Shellac guitarist and Nirvana recording engineer Steve Albini’s contribution “Nutty About Lemurs” sounds unsurprisingly abrasive and, well, very very Albinilike.
 

Steve Albini - “Nutty About Lemurs”

A big curveball on the album is “A Little Ethnic Song,” by Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis, which sounds nothing like the first thing you thought when you read his name. And it’s really wonderful.
 

J. Mascis - “A Little Ethnic Song”

Tom Hazelmeyer never became a household name playing guitar for Halo Of Flies, but as big boss man at Amphetamine Reptile Records, he shaped the sound of the ‘90s bludgeon-rock underground as much as anyone. He’s lately turned up on the rock radar again, guesting on guitar with the Brisbane band No Anchor. His Guitarrorists contribution is the skin-flaying “Guitar Wank-Off #13.”
 

Tom Hazelmeyer - “Guitar Wank-Off #13”

Interesting for how far this selection sticks out from the crowd, and for how lovely it is amid the sea of distortion that is much of the comp, here’s “I Really Can’t Say,” by Kathy Korniloff from Two Nice Girls, a folk-rock band from Austin, notably loud-and-proud out lesbians at a time when that kind of openness was still highly unusual, and far riskier than it is today. They broke up in 1992, but scored some college radio love with a gem of an anthem called “I Spent My Last $10 on Birth Control and Beer.” 
 

Kathy Korniloff - “I Really Can’t Say”

Lastly, though there are contributions on the CD from all three guitar-wielding Sonic Youths, only one of them seems to have found its way online. Here’s an appropriately stark fan video for Lee Ranaldo’s pensive acoustic solo “Here”:
 

Lee Ranaldo - “Here”

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Awkward, hilarious interview with Steve Albini
10.24.2013
07:58 am

Topics:
Amusing
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
Big Black
Steve Albini
Shellac


 
At first I thought I was going to be bored by this Steve Albini interview by a guy named Tucker Woodley on his Let’s Chat show. As soon as Woodley opened his mouth I almost turned it off, but decided to stay with it.

I’m glad I did. It’s an awkward interview, the type you see on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! (like when Richard Dunn met Dave Navarro) or Between Two Ferns, but with… Steve Albini!

It’s highly uncomfortable and very funny. Just watch. I’m assuming that Albini was in on this, but maybe not, it’s pretty hard to tell. NSFW-ish.
 

 
With thanks to Nate DuFort!

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Absolute Nirvana: New Steve Albini mixes push ‘In Utero’ anniversary set into essential territory
09.14.2013
03:42 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Nirvana
Steve Albini


 
As a culture, we love our milestones. They provide opportunities for valuable introspection and reassessment. Surely the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s third and final studio album, 1993’s In Utero, is a rich opportunity for that, since it was, perhaps, the single most anticipated album of an important music decade, and one that saw its pre-release publicity significantly and entertainingly overtaken by the band’s decision to record it with the gifted and thoughtful but notoriously polarizing underground sonic wizard recording engineer Steve Albini.

Forgive me while I detour to rehash some obvious consensus rock history, but discussing In Utero without the context of its predecessor’s significance is pointless. I wonder if it’s hard for anyone younger than say around their mid-30s to really grasp how damned HUGE the impact crater of 1991’s Nevermind really was. For those of us who’d spent the ‘80s listening—just like the young men who would become Nirvana had—to stuff like Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, and later, The Pixies, that LP was a Revenge of the Nerds scenario on a national scale, a big fat “I TOLD YOU SO” to the blinkered American culture industry that had spent a decade consigning its most transcendentally great rock artists to cult status, at best. Imagine if The Fugs’ second record made them as popular and important as the Beatles overnight. The sweetness was short-lived once it was realized that the explosion meant that the shows we wanted to see would now be massive, expensive affairs, full to the bursting point with the previously avoidable dicks who’d made an avocation of kicking our punker asses back in high school. And of course Pearl Jam and their ilk rushed in to fill the void of musical douche-chills left in the charts in no-time flat.

Disregarding this alter kaker’s tribalist crabbing, Nevermind wasn’t just a changing of the guard, nor was it a mere paradigm shift. It was a full-bore fucking zeitgeist reset button, making entire genres of pop music obsolete for the rest of the decade within three months of its release. Jane’s Addiction and Dinosaur Jr. had already been pointing the way to the future, but Nirvana brought us there whether we liked it or not, when nobody was looking, least of all Nirvana themselves.
 

 
Problem is, massive success is the first step down the road towards becoming a has-been, and this was the perception problem Nirvana faced with In Utero before they’d even recorded a note of it. Quick, name Deee-Lite’s next single after “Groove Is In The Heart,” or Peter Frampton’s follow-up to Frampton Comes Alive.

So mazel tov, you set off the atom bomb. What else you got?

It helped that, being steeped in punk’s burn-the-establishment disposition, Nirvana weren’t really interested in the pressures being brought to bear to somehow reinvent the wheel, twice, and saw the followup to Nevermind as their opportunity to wear their influences on their sleeves and drop a titanic and genuinely underground album - one that was guaranteed to sell no matter what it sounded like, and bring still more of their noisier forebears’ ideas into the wider marketplace. Hence the selection of Steve Albini to produce.

Having helmed landmark LPs by the Pixies and The Jesus Lizard, Albini had carved out a distinctive and uncompromisingly harsh sound (pretty much anyone listening to independent music in the ‘90s could tell within seconds if Albini produced something, just from the drum sound alone), and a reputation for difficulty that had spread beyond the underground. He was opinionated, vocal, and not one to suffer the machinations of major labels, and The David Geffen Company, Nirvana’s corporate keepers, knew it. Upon being asked to take the job, Albini sent a hand-typed four page letter to Nirvana, reproduced in the anniversary reissue (about which more later), outlining his recording philosophy.

I think the very best thing you could do at this point is exactly what you are talking about doing: bang a record out in a couple of days, with high quality but minimal “production” and no interference from the front office bulletheads. If that is indeed what you want to do, I would love to be involved.

If, instead, you might find yourselves in the position of being temporarily indulged by the record company, only to have them yank the chain at some point (hassling you to rework songs/sequences/production, calling-in hired guns to “sweeten” your record, turning the whole thing over to some remix jockey, whatever…) then you’re in for a bummer and I want no part of it.

I’m only interested in working on records that legitimately reflect the band’s own perception of their music and existence. If you will commit yourselves to that as a tenet of the recording methodology, then I will bust my ass for you. I’ll work circles around you. I’ll rap your head in with a ratchet…

His wishes were very nearly adhered to, but there was still a very public controversy. Ultimately, two songs, the singles “Heart Shaped Box,” and “All Apologies” were remixed by Scott Litt, a producer known for his association with R.E.M. (Also, a Litt remix of “Pennyroyal Tea” was, for some reason, swapped in to the bowdlerized version of the album sold in Marts, Wal and K.) Albini, true to form, delivered some unsparing snark about the matter to the music press, but he won out in the long run, as the album is justly considered Nirvana’s greatest work, and its his name that’s associated with it. But really, it’s not like the Litt mixes were so terrible. Here’s an A/B of Litt and Albini’s mixes, with the caveat that YouTube compresses audio tracks, so obviously this is nowhere near like listening to the masters.
 

 
Albini’s triumph is bolstered by his involvement in In Utero’s amazing 20th Anniversary reissue. (Of course, it had to be a pretty posh set or it wouldn’t have been worth the bother—a simple reissue would be competing with 20 years worth of used CDs, after all.) Though predictably compiling B-sides, live cuts and demos with a remaster of the original release and a live DVD, the reissue also contains a new Albini remix of the entire album. While it may, upon a first casual listen, suffer from the kind of but-but-but-it’s-different-than-what-I’m-UUUUSED-TOOOOO! bias that can afflict reinterpretations of classics, god damn if it ain’t essential, a genuinely valuable new perspective. (This actually isn’t even the first time Albini has bested a classic.)

I truly wish there was some way for me to share these mixes with you, but Universal is, understandably, keeping a tight grip on the release, so there’s no legitimate way to do so and you’ll have to wait until September 24 like everybody else (except lucky fucks like me, of course). The new “All Apologies,” just for one example, is fucking STUNNING, especially in headphones. The overall feel of the song is wider and roomier, the trademark Nirvana quiet verse-loud chorus dynamics are more exaggerated (and more effective) than in the Litt remix, and its glorious cacophony-exhausting-itself ending just absolutely slays. (Notably, it also comes off less like a Cobain suicide note - you know he killed himself, right? - than either the single or the subsequent Unplugged version, though of course the passage of time may be a factor in that.) The new “Heart Shaped Box” is tense, claustrophobic, raw, filthy, and vastly more emotively forceful than the radio version we’re used to. Scrubbing off the R.E.M. guy’s polish reveals an absolute powerhouse of a song. Albini tells the tale better than I can, speaking frankly and at highly edifying length about the original recording and the remix last month here on the Kreative Kontrol podcast.

If recording session details and backstory are your bag, I unconditionally recommend checking out the work of writer Gillian G. Gaar, author of this fine 1997 article and the superb book on In Utero from the 33 1/3 series. Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic talk about the sessions in this interview.
 

 
Of course, Albini has his own band, with its own impressive mastery of tension-and-release dynamics, evidently with a new album on the way. Enjoy this live in studio performance by Shellac.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment