In New York City earlier this month, a re-formed Shudder to Think played what might have been its last reunion show. This followed a 2008 tour that marked a ten-year period of inactivity for the band. Some reports from the New York show, which celebrated the release of Live from Home, reflected attendees’ dissatisfaction with the partial/incomplete lineup. Although the performance did feature the band’s most visible member, Craig Wedren, drummer Kevin March, and a surprise cameo by original guitarist Chris Matthews, guitar player Nathan Larson was noticeably absent. However, to speculate about who did and did not appear fussily disregards the musical happening.
Live from Home corrects this lack of focus on the music itself by providing an energetic document of the 2008 tour. For the record, the tour lineup that appears on the album is Wedren, Larson, March, Jesse Krakow (bass), and Mark Watrous (guitar). Few bands could take a decade off and come back in such top form as Shudder to Think does with this material. One contributing factor to the quality of the performances is the fact that all of the musicians have stayed involved in a number of other bands and creative projects over the years. None of their careers presently depends on participation in Shudder to Think, and Live from Home delivers on the rare prospect of a reunion tour that genuinely seems to be about the music rather than a cynical cash-in.
These live recordings, selected from different shows throughout the tour, include songs from five studio albums (1990’s Ten-Spot through 1997’s 50,000 B.C.). One point of contention concerning Shudder to Think is a perceived disunity between its Dischord and Epic releases. Though aside from extra studio polish in the later years, the band’s unique post-hardcore pop was compositionally consistent during its original 12-year run. The core elements of the band’s sound—shifting rhythms, adventurously converging guitar lines that could retrospectively be called “angular”, and Wedren’s one-of-a-kind vocals—are all on display here. Additionally, to detach songs from the production values of their original studio recordings creates an even stronger impression of the band’s signature (and influential) style.
One highlight of the set is “Shake Your Halo Down”, which improves on the original version from Get Your Goat—perhaps the only album that is a bit over-represented in this otherwise equitable collection. Wedren prefaces Ten-Spot‘s “Jade Dust Eyes” with “this is old”, but both that number and the similarly uptempo “Rag” sound like the work of a band hitting its prime rather than reviving the past. Part of the here-and-now dynamism of these recordings is found in the singer’s ageless frontman charisma, especially evident in moments like the lead-in to “X-French Tee Shirt” or the stop-and-start interplay of “Hit Liquor”. But the band behind Wedren is not to be underestimated, and when that wall of guitars and tight rhythm section combines with his attitude, Shudder to Think sounds matchless.
The whole band hits a peak on an especially strong rendering of “Lies About the Sky” (from Funeral at the Movies) that pushes the song into a lavish anthemic territory the original studio recording didn’t reach. At the risk of overstating the effect, it is as if the song retroactively “becomes” classic rock via this version. Perhaps the most well known material on Live from Home is from the band’s beloved Pony Express Record, and none of these live takes disappoint. There is little room for error on “X-French Tee Shirt” or the vocally naked “No Rm. 9, Kentucky”, two songs that define the band’s unique combination of simplicity and complexity.
It is somehow unfair to classify Shudder to Think as a band that failed to achieve a sufficient level of commercial success in its most active decade. One could call the band ahead of its time, but time has no bearing on the band’s ability to seamlessly connect various compositional dots that its musical peers didn’t even spot. However, the weird seeds Shudder to Think planted throughout the 1990s did fall on the ears of many who would now like to wear the post-hardcore moniker. Although the band is still not mentioned with great frequency amongst these younger musicians, the influence is difficult to deny.Some of these falsetto-singing, oblique chord-conflating upstarts and their fans should check out Live from Home in order to hear that some of their most seemingly current trends and fresh ideas have a very direct source amongst American guitar rock bands. Shudder to Think did it first and still does it better.
// Notes from the Road
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