'It's Friday And My Car Is Stuck In Three Feet Of Snow, But Somewhere Steve Albini Is Mic'ing Some Motherfucking Drums!'

First off, let me just say that, having watched the entire "season" of Foo Fighter's "Sonic Highways", Chicago was BY FAR the best episode.  Seeing as how I've lived in three other cities featured in the series, my opinion counts for something.  If you disagree, but have only just lived in the one city you're no doubt defending, bugger off.

In hindsight, Grohl and company would have been better served by simply putting the production trucks up on blocks and shooting the entire season in Chitown.  Hell, you could do an entire season just on Steve Albini and you wouldn't have to be a member of the Chicago rock brigade to appreciate it, either.

Try as I might to be a true punk, melody is and will always be king.  It's the same reason I fucking hate Wilco.  That's not a song, that's eight idiots onstage each wanking off to their own magazine.
Yet I find endless melody in Big Black, the seemingly jet-propelled Chicago punk band that could have only happened in Chicago.  Leader, visionary, antagonist Steve Albini moved to Chicago from literal bumfuck (somewhere in Alabraska or Mississouri).

I think he knew to get the sound he heard in his head but could not coax out meant moving to the Second City and embracing the city's industrial grime and guttural lunacy.  When I see factories belching clouds of smoke you can chew, the sun all but forgotten, I hear Big Black and vice versa.

But what does a punk rocker do when Big Black breaks up?  He forms another band, of course. By law, said band is never as good as the first, but fans continue to support it until the day when the first band reunites.  They aren't there to hear your new material, they're there to pay respects to your past, which they will carry with them through their life.  You may be penniless, but you can take solace in knowing your posters will hang in this person's hallway forever.  It could just as easily have been Randy Rhoads, so there's that to be proud of, I suppose.

Steve Albini no doubt saw the absurdity in that and immediately took a shovel to Rapeman after an EP and full-length album.  I remember the first time I heard someone say that Steve Albini was producing their album.  Oddly enough, I can't remember the band, but I can remember thinking that the idea of Albini producing another artist seemed far-fetched - almost comical.  After all, antagonism was so much a part of his DNA that one wondered if he could get along with anybody else, much less be open to suggestions.

But the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that the world could probably use a producer who takes your money and scoffs at your every idea, tells you that your songs are shit when they are, and gives you a master tape of exactly what he wants your band to sound like.  Keep in mind that there was, and is, no better thing to be able to put on the back of your record than "Recorded by Steve Albini".

That's not something to be taken lightly either.  Need I remind you that Kurt Cobain, already adored the world over, also dreamed of one day seeing Albini's name on the back of one of his own albums?

Quite fittingly, Albini remains in Chicago.  Hell, he IS Chicago as far as rock music goes, but his clientele is global, both geographically and musically.  You can tell he wasn't born here, though, because there are certain things about him that harken back to Mayberry or Pleasantville, U.S.A., like the matching mechanic's jumpsuits that the Electrical Audio staff wear and the workanlike manner in which they go about their business.  

You would think he was born here because everything about him now seems so fittingly "Chicago" - the no-nonsense attire, the world-weary look in his eyes when the subject of "the industry" is brought up, and the ability to survive and thrive through thick and thin.  We in the music community have all seen a lot of studios come and go.  Hell, some of us derive great bathroom entertainment by thumbing through the seemingly endless studio ads in the Illinois Entertainer each month.  While many who cut their teeth and made their names in this town have danced off to the warmer climes and industry back-slapping of L.A., Albini remains very much a fixture here and hasn't lost a step.

Make no mistake, just behind that guarded smile is the same unrelenting no-bullshit attitude and willingness to take an unpopular stand (and make it popular) that defined an entire punk scene (along with Strike Under, Naked Raygun, the Effigies, and others), although it has given way to a quiet calm.

Maybe he saw that there was no future in furthering the antagonistic "never take no for an answer" personality, but when he opened his own studio, Electrical Audio, it became very evident who the real Steve Albini was.  The methodology and precision that he takes in the execution of music recording is like that of a workman and a scientist, right down to the matching jumpsuits that he and his staff wear while "on the clock".  Keep in mind that this is a man who is invited to speak all over the world and to demonstrate his approach to mic'ing drums for recording.

In a city best known the world over for being home to Chess Records, the band Chicago, Buddy Guy, Cheap Trick (whom we claim as our own because, apparently, Rockford is a suburb), Survivor, the Ides of March, Styx, the Buckinghams, Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, and Fall Out Boy, not to mention the "Romper Room" of music festivals (Lollapalooza), just knowing that Steve Albini is somewhere within these city limits mic'ing up some kid's $500 drum set to sound like a Sherman tank driving through a brick wall at 35 mph is reassuring.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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