The Shudder to Think Quasi-Reunion
Craig Wedren’s beauty only makes him more terrifying, his pointy head shaved down to the bone, his sideburns carved into ornery Tetris pieces, his voice a blunt, quivering instrument of ethereal violence, the cruelest and most bewildering falsetto imaginable. Fuck a Jeff Buckley. As his Mercury set starts, Craig quietly strums his guitar (dissonant chords, seemingly randomly selected) and croons a luscious ballad—Yoouuu must be heaven sent—that, he explains, serves two purposes: It reminds him of his wife, and it allows his drummer to take a crap.
This show seeks to reunite half the most popular (read: light MTV rotation) iteration of Shudder to Think, Craig’s D.C. glam-punk band, which evolved from arty Dischord intrigue to even artier light MTV rotation via the 1994 quasi-hit “X-French Tee Shirt” [updated]. Into the pantheon of Totally Sweet Songs, let us now induct “X-French Tee Shirt,” wantonly transforming grunge-era tropes (crabby guitars, hammy theatrics, ludicrously flamboyant machismo) into horrifying but mesmerizing weirdness, with a thoroughly bewildering video (the goatees alone are obscene) and a structure that, like most Shudder to Think songs, eschews verse-chorus-verse for something like verse-WTF-guh-atonal breakdown-verse-“solo”-#$%??!! -“chorus”-verse-seriously, WTF-endless coda. The endless coda to “X-French Tee Shirt” is a monster, a raging one-chord basher wherein Wedren sweetly warbles “Hold back the road that goes/So that the others may do/That you let me in just pour me down/Their mouths” as though it makes perfect sense. Afterward, you just want to lie down.
So. Craig starts us off with a newish solo set, in time-honored rock quartet formation (featuring drummer Kevin March, who joined Shudder for the 1997 swan song 50,000 B.C. and, now, having taken a crap, feels much better), and the anti-structure remains, his intros and verses and riffs all jerky, slithering, quickly mutating art-rock velociraptors that suddenly transform into glorious T. Rex choruses. (Look for a new album called Wand, pronounced slowly and grandly, savoring the single-entendre, sometime soon.) But the party truly starts when they launch into “X-French Tee Shirt,” and as that endless coda begins, out saunters guitarist Nathan Larson, the other obscene goatee in the video. The crowd whoops. Nathan plugs in and starts bashing along to that one chord. Craig sweetly warbles “Hold back the road that goes/So that the others may do/That you let me in just pour me down/Their mouths” as though it makes perfect sense. All is wrong and yet oh so right with the world.
The mini-set that follows dips into fairly straightforward indie-rock (the still-splendid “Red House,” the briefly rising bassline an unexpected delight) and the lovely but borderline-incoherent Pony Express ballad “No Rm. 9, Kentucky,” which features a long interval of near-silence (soft drums barely keeping time) that the crowd refuses to break: the ultimate sign of respect, and success. Then out comes Nina Persson, she formerly of the Cardigans, now married to Larson and actually headlining this show with their lovely but sleepy dream-pop band A Camp. It’s strange to hear any other singer attempt to match Wedren’s witchery, but she gamely belts out the relatively sunny “Day Ditty” as though she’s fronting the La’s, and finishes up with “Appalachian Lullaby,” a bizarre selection from the First Love, Last Rites soundtrack, a soft, fuzzy, harmony-heavy cross between “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and the song during the diaper chase scene in Raising Arizona. Amid such extravagant confusion, it sounds almost unbearably sweet, a rare moment of beauty without the terror.