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The Shellac and Steve Albini Ramble

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

The Shellac and Steve Albini Ramble

Andrew Ryan

In last week’s column I mentioned that I’m not very good with the idea of meeting people who’s work and careers I admire. By this I mean that I’m terrified at the prospect of meeting musicians, artists, actors and film makers I like, especially if they’re from overseas. A few years ago I turned down the opportunity to photograph The Black Lips because I was so shit scared of… I don’t know what. Them. Myself. Failure. Success. For no reason. Jesus Tahlia, it’s just a guy/girl with a guitar/paint brush/camera, they’re juuuuust the same as anyone else. But my brain goes on bizarre tangents based on shaking hands with a vaguely famous person that inevitably lead me towards many roads that I’m scared to embark on, and all in all I end up feeling like a weird neurotic mess. So in my adult years, when I’ve encountered people with a little public notoriety, I stress out and clam up. Jon Saffran is a perfect example. I’ve met the guy twice, both times in pretty solid situations that prove we have similar interests, but because I saw him on tv a lot as a youngling, I could barely string together a sentence and offer anything of use to the man conversationally. I met J Mascis one time and couldn’t even look him in the eye. One of the guys from The Monotonix asked me to come on a road trip from Melbourne to Brisbane with them to photograph and hang out, and I turned it down because the idea was just way too great to handle. This is actually one of my biggest regrets. Stupid Tahlia. Stupid, insecure Tahlia. But last week I had my most confronting experience in this vein… I received an email from Steve Albini in which he said he would be happy to give me some guest spots on the door to last Friday’s Shellac concert at the Hifi Bar in Melbourne. I saw the name in my inbox and I yelped. And then I squealed, and then I read it, and then I furiously fist pumped and started to cackle. My friend who used to work for Mr. Albini had hooked me up VERY NICELY and now I was email-chatting to this musician who’s work I admire MOST highly and never, ever imagined I would have the opportunity to talk to about anything.

When tickets for Shellac became available, I was broke as hell. They sold out incredibly fast, so I thought all was lost, but refused to get too upset about it because I never expected to see them live anyway, at the very least not in Australia. Friends who were friends with members of My Disco- who were the support for the Friday night show- were occasionally pestered to try and procure some doors spots but everyone else in Melbourne was doing that too, so it was never going to work out that way. But what do you know, it fucking came through for me in the end, and at the hands of Steve Fucking Albini. And he was a totally chill, totally normal emailer, said it wasn’t a problem, he was happy to help, and that I should come and say hi if I get the chance.

COME AND SAY HI IF I GET THE CHANCE? The man is probably way too normal and humble to consider how much that churned my insides. OH OKAY YEAH SURE, I WILL, THANKS AGAIN STEVE. My mate Steve. Cue more witchy cackling.

The show itself was fucking awesome. There was a great variety to the audience; people who’d seen them last time they were here, younglings like myself who never thought they would see the day, metal types, hipsters, dudes who look like they’ve decided to die at their computer screens, people who were there because they knew the right people but weren’t all that familiar with the music, hard core Shellac fans and their long suffering girlfriends, all of it. The venue was packed- sold out, as I said before. The atmosphere was a kind of muted-electric; you could see the extreme excitement in many sets of eyes, and there was a lot of boisterous laughter, many drinks flowing and big manly hugs all round, but it was tinged with a sort of trepidation that I can only put down to the sense that this whole thing wouldn’t be believed until the guys were actually on stage, proving to the audience that they could still rock it as hard as they could 10 years ago. Let’s face it, we’re all a little wary about people over 40 playing in rock bands, because energy does inevitably die down…

My Disco killed it. I haven’t seen them for years, and this show felt like it had an almost psychedelic quality to it that turned me on something chronic. For those of us in the crowd who aren’t angry about My Disco heavily drawing on the minimalist conventions created by Shellac, it was the perfect precursor to the headliners.

And then Shellac emerged, and mother fucker they were TIGHT as all shit. I’ve said before that I am no music reviewer, so I won’t bother trying, not now, not for this. There are plenty of reviews floating around by people who care about giving a real review, and for those of you who haven’t seen them yet but are going to, I won’t give anything away.

For me, the first half of the set was one of the most euphoric experiences of my life. I was ecstatic. I didn’t know all of the songs- I’m not that kind of Shellac fan- but it didn’t stop me from grinning like a fucking idiot, making guttural noises from sheer joy, grabbing my boyfriend around the neck and shaking him and jumping up and down and stamping my feet and rocking back and forth and all of it. I lost my mind. And then the euphoria turned to TOTALLY OVERWHELMED and I could feel my chest tightening, and I realised how many people were in the venue, and the man in front of me was nearly twice my size, and my back started to ache, and I felt shaky and then a panic attack hit, so I ran out of the crowd, up the stairs and out on to the street to just sit the fuck down and chill the fuck out.

I smoked a cigarette, trying to calm myself down. And then I realised that a whole lot of the anxiety was OH MAN I HAVE TO GO UP AND THANK STEVE ALBINI FOR THE DOOR SPOTS AFTER THE SHOW. HOW THE HELL AM I GOING TO DO THAT. HOW THE HELL AM I GOING TO MEET HIM AND SHAKE HIS HAND WITHOUT VOMITING. I can’t pretend to be cool about this shit. Look at this man, making so many people so fucking happy. And then I thought, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING SITTING OUTSIDE and ran back in to watch the rest of the set.

My chest was still tight, and my back still hurt, and I had to sit on the floor at the feet of many people for a little bit, but then I stood back up and my favourite Shellac song- one of favourite songs of all time- was played and everything to do with my fragile sanity up until that point settled back into place, and I was smiling once again, more peacefully this time. More at ease with the impending handshake.

After the gig had wrapped up, Bob Weston came and sat on the stage and began to sell the band’s t-shirts to the crowd. Brilliant idea guys, so many more people would by that fucking t-shirt (it’s a goodun by the way) if it comes from the hand of a member of Shellac. I stood behind the throng of people waiting for their turn to jabber excitedly at him, hoping my mate Steve would emerge to do the same. After many awkward snippets of sentences to my friends “UH, yeah, uh, I just gotta…. yeah I’m just waiting for… uh… gotta shake the hand… say thanks ARGH” etc, Mr Albini did indeed join Mr. Weston, and I began in inch closer and closer to my destination, right in front of him, just have to wait for this tiny man in front of me to take his fucking t-shirt and get out of my way…

And there it was. “STEVE! HI!” Hand is thrust toward him. He takes it. “I’m uh, Tahlia, Martin’s friend. Just wanted to say thanks so much for putting me on the door!” Me: huge grin, terrified eyes. Him: sweaty. “Hey, nice to meet you!” “Okay, bye!” And I turn around and get the FUCK out of there. For the first time in my life- and I am absolutely serious here- my legs went weak and my mouth was instantly bone dry. I had to get outside. I had to hug my boyfriend. I had to sit down and have a cigarette and not talk for a bit. Friends: “Where to now?” Me: “I CAN’T THINK” as my whole body slowly stops shaking.

When I got home I emailed Steve and thanked him properly. And his reply was lovely and humble and I told him he should come to my boyfriends gig the next day if he had time and he politely declined due to a luncheon with an old friend. Fuck it, I tried.

So there you have it, my stupid experience. I hope your Shellac time was/is a memorable one too. And fingers crossed that this whole Steve Albini fiasco got all of my shitty celebrity fear out of my system so I can do this whole photography/writing-as-a-potential-career thing with less hesitation and self doubt from now on. Fist pump!