Sunday, 24 November 2013

Julia Holter and Shellac in Glasgow. Live gig reviews

Julia Holter, CCA, November 20th, 2013

Shellac, SWG3, November 23rd, 2013


It is easy to forget how big a country the United States of America actually is, how diverse its people and communities are. We tend to lump them all together sometimes. Musically their differences were apparent in two of Glasgow's cookier venues this week. On Wednesday, Los Angeles musician Julia Holter brought her 78-date tour to an end at the CCA on Sauchiehall Street. Whilst on Saturday, Chicago based Shellac played one of their sporadic gigs, before they move on to play at Camber Sands as part of the last ever All Tomorrow's Parties festival to be held at the Pontins Holiday Centre venue.

Julia Holter is a 29 year old classically trained, multi-instrumentalist and singer, the daughter of a musician and an historian. Her three albums to date are themed on the ancient Greek play by Euripides, Hippolytus (Tragedy), the musical Gigi (Loud City Song), or quote Virginia Woolf poems (Ekstasis). She is most often compared with Laurie Anderson in style. Despite these high-faluting aspirations she has released ethereal, distinctive, ambient electronica that may not set the pulse racing but creates lovely atmospheres. Whereas I loved the album Visions by Grimes, seeing her live drained the music of any interest for me. The opposite was true of Julia Holter tonight. Playing keyboards and singing in front of a cello, saxophone and drummer/percussionist/singer she was cheery, chatty and tone perfect. Her voice on the recordings comes over as another instrument, but played live the songs had more emotion and the lyrics stood out more. She epitomises cool, breezy, intelligent Los Angeles.

Worth mentioning was the excellent support slot by Ela Orleans. Definitely worth catching if you get the chance.

Over 2000 miles away from LA, and a world away from Julia Holter's floaty vocals is found Chicago and Shellac (or Shellac of North America as they are sometimes know, perhaps so that they are not mistaken for nail varnish). They are a trio of musicians with Steve Albini on guitar and vocals, Bob Weston (bass and vocals) and Todd Trainer (drums). They see themselves as more of a "minimalist rock trio" than the post-hardcore label they are usually stuck with and have been touring and releasing albums sporadically for 20 years. I first heard them when I bought 1000 Hurts, but I got rid of it as the CD came in a big box and took up too much space (I've held on to Excellent Italian Greyhound though - neater packaging). Where Julia Holter is all digital and produces a lot of her stuff alone, Shellac are decidedly analogue. Steve Albini has produced albums for a multitude of musicians in his Chicago studio, often recorded as live, without overdubs. His most famous collaboration was as producer for Nirvana's In Utero album. Their stripped down sound, throbbing beats to the fore with Trainer's drums front of stage, fitted perfectly in the SWG3 space. In Watch Song all three of them end up beating the cymbals, and a highlight of the night was a long version of End of Radio with Trainer wandering about thrashing his snare drum and hurling away the drumsticks as they splintered. The customary mid-gig Q&A was more random than enlightening - "What is your favourite shape of window?", "Do you think Scotland should have independence?", "Could you turn the vocals down a bit?"(hipster question - he is well known for toning down the vocals in production).

I'm still a bit mystified by another random Albinin conversation. Perhaps someone who understands how Americans regard Utah could enlighten me.
Shellac, to Glasgow crowd - "If you are England's Canada, who's their Mexico?"  
Crowd - "WALES!".  
Shellac - "I always saw Wales as their Utah"
Anyway they were a great lesson in the creative benefits of being able to just do whatever you want, not being beholden to record companies, highly entertaining. They in no way take themselves too seriously and look out for their new album, "Dude, Incredible", whenever they get around to releasing it.

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