Live Review: Shudder To Think at the El Rey Theatre

November 1, 2008

Listening to Shudder To Think is a lot like doing trigonometry – you know it all makes sense somehow, but damned if you can figure it out.  Full of obtuse angles but wrought with plenty of accessible melodic avenues, their music is one of the more love-it-or-hate-it propositions to have ever wound up on a major label.  The latest participant in a spate of 90s-era band reunions, STT brought their re-collected selves to a (surprisingly) female heavy, half-full El Rey Theatre Saturday night for a trip down a Hieronymous Bosch-like Memory Lane.

Ponies need not apply, they have the internet now:  STT's Craig Wedren (photo by the author).

Ponies need not apply, they have the internet now: STT's Craig Wedren (photo by the author).

Without any specific new product to hawk, STT’s show focused on past triumphs, most specifically targeting their 1994 breakthrough, the be-deviling Pony Express Record.  Live highlights from that album included “Hit Liquor,” “Gang of $,” “9 Fingers On You,” “No Rm. 9, Kentucky” and “X French Tee Shirt” and “Earthquakes Come Home,” which singer/guitarist Craig Wedren, a recent L.A. transplant, seemed especially proud to introduce, having experienced his first rumbler just a few months ago.  Despite the Pony-heavy set, they found time to touch on selections from their other albums as well, most notably “Rag” from 1990’s Ten Spot and “Pebbles” from 1992’s Get Your Goat.

Though they gave The People everything they could have asked for and more from an STT show a decade and change after the fact, something was lacking from their performance.  Maybe it was because they’re older and wiser and less pissed off, but while they had no problem navigating the House Of Leaves-like corridors of their frequently complex music, an expected razor-like execution seemed to be missing throughout.

Wedren kept the night friendly with lots of comedic patter between songs, creating contrast to the noisy and often dark material the band played.  “You guys know the song ‘Chocolate?’” he asked the crowd of a selection from 1991’s Funeral At The Movies.  “This is our version of that song – by us.”

It’s likely that had they chosen a more user-friendly manifestation of their music, Wedren and STT guitarist Nathan Larson would have risen above the ranks of their 90s-rock peers to some sort of iconic hero status.  Despite the years, Wedren’s unique voice continues to impress and guitarist Nathan Larson’s unusual guitar passages seem as fresh and inventive as they did in the Days Of Flannel.  But STT’s choice in art limited their popular appeal.  Not accessible enough to be Pearl Jam and not disturbing enough to be Tool, they relegated themselves to becoming a marginally remembered outfit, loved most by a minority of obsessives.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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