Tonic – New York, NY
Feb. 13, 2003
Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy Feb. 13, 2003
It says a lot about a band when they can face technical obstacles and malfunctions on stage and still manage to pull out an incredible live performance. Shipping News did just that on February 13, overcoming problems with guitarist Jeff Mueller’s amp to present an intense eight-song valentine to a packed audience at Tonic, in New York City.
Over the course of two studio records and a limited run EP, the Louisville trio has developed a certain level of renown – as well as a loyal following – for crafting aggressive but atmospheric and lyrical post-rock compositions.
To see them live, however, is to know that they are one of the finest indie bands on the road today. Those who managed to score a copy of the band’s live split release with Metroschifter in 1998 have the evidence.
Shipping News may be the only rock band on the face of the planet who are tighter on stage than in the studio, and the only act who can perform live with both astounding precision and a sense of energetic, near-reckless abandon.
At Tonic, the band exhibited this live chemistry with a set that featured songs from 1997’s Save Everything and 2001’s Very Soon and in Pleasant Company, as well as cuts from the newly released Three-Four and some as-yet-untitled fare.
Marred by occasional problems with Mueller’s amp, the band opened with three unreleased tracks – working titles: “Leuven,” “Mores” or “Demon,” and “Face” – each more energized and volatile than what preceded them. Playing live with four members instead of three, the new songs seemed larger in scope as well as volume, integrating multiple guitar lines into choruses and refrains that echoed some of Mueller and Jason Noble’s earlier work together in Rodan.
Far from the atmospheric, often-hushed tones of songs like “How to Draw Horses” – from Very Soon and in Pleasant Company – the Shipping News’ live sound is edgy and more explosive. While the band members seem to communicate with each other through an almost intuitive sense of rhythm, much of the credit for the live set’s cohesion may go to drummer Kyle Crabtree.
A hard-hitting percussionist in the vein of Dale Crover and Mac McNeilly, Crabtree attacks his set with venom but also manages to still keep time for even the most strange time signatures or patterns that Mueller and Noble present.
Listen to Crabtree slamming away on “Nine Bodies, Nine States” on the band’s live EP and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
The live set at Tonic, however, provided room for all four members of the band to shine. And shine they did.
In addition to the new tracks, the band performed “Quiet Victories,” “March Song,” and an especially lucid version of “A True Lover’s Knot.” Tonic audiences also got the chance to hear full-band takes on two songs from the recently released Three-Four, a record of solo performances by Crabtree, Mueller, and Noble taken, in part, from the band’s recent RMSN EP series.
Mueller took lead vocal and guitar duties on a fleshed-out version of “Dogs,” a song he recorded for Three-Four. To close the set, the band launched into “Paper Lanterns,” a Noble song from Three-Four that features a trance-like bass progression and blasts of interjected sound.
While, on Three-Four, the track is reminiscent of Noble’s recordings with Per Mission, it was a different creature when performed live, focusing more on the give-and-take between bass and drums, and Noble’s whispered vocals.
While Three-Four, released earlier this month, is a welcome addition to the group’s growing catalog, there may be little that’s comparable to the experience of seeing them live.
What are you waiting for?