VIDEO: Shudder to Think live in DC, 1989
You might not buy this, but Fitchburg was pretty happening 15 years ago. Boston rock folk (of a certain age) will remember treks to the Wallace Civic Center — a drab hockey-plex that hosted uncharacteristically bad-ass rock shows by the likes of Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Jane’s Addiction. If you saw those shows, you also witnessed opening bands like Lush, Half Japanese, and (if you went to see Fugazi for five bucks in 1993) Shudder To Think — who reunite after 10 years this Saturday at the Paradise.
I ditched a dishwashing shift to see that show, and when I recount this to Shudder leader Craig Wedren (graced with math rock’s most beloved falsetto), he gives a long “ohhhhhhh!”, as though wresting the memory from its place in storage. “God, I remember that place. It was like the back cover of Kiss Alive — all these stoned-looking kids in a hockey rink.” He also seemed borderline conversant in the fledgling Fitchburg/Leominster hardcore scene of yore. In the Internet-less hinterlands of 1993, one’s “hardcore” scene often served as a catch-all forum for any type of band who were aggressive on a given front — “hardcore” was less an indicator of sound than a way for a band to say, “We mean it.”
It was within a hardcore scene similar to this that Shudder To Think began cutting their teeth at the end of the ’80s. Hop on YouTube and you can see footage from 1989 of Wedren (beneath a mop of hair) flailing away at the BBQ Iguana (a grimy former elevator-repair space at 14th and P in DC). The band’s formative output had nothing to do with hardcore at the time and a lot to do with the signature sound that would emerge and make them major-label-foxy less than five years later — about the time they ended up at the hockey rink in Fitchburg, playing songs off 1992’s Get Your Goat and leaking hints of 1994’s discordant masterpiece Pony Express Record.
“There’s a ‘first-thought/best-thought’ tendency in indie rock these days,” says Wedren. “But we learned that sitting down and grinding it out can produce good results.” It was this sitting and grinding that distinguished Shudder from everyone else who got stuffed in the Dischord pigeonhole — each of their releases ramps up their obsession with detail and their indulgence in obliquity. Nathan Larson’s guitar would lose you, drop out, reappear, seduce you through chords of his own invention, then shake you awake. Wedren’s lyrics were a psycho-phonetic thrill ride where shameless glam collided with gratuitous rockisms — with “florid . . . almost garish” results, “full of the grandeur and drama of being young.” In other words, Wedren misses it.
When Shudder disbanded after 1997’s 50,000 B.C. (which itself emerged after Wedren won his prolonged battle with Hodgkin’s disease), there remained a gap unlikely to be filled by the increasingly danceable pop that would characterize the following decade. Even Wedren began to stray from the “fascistic” dictates of taste imposed by their upbringing. “I started indulging in music that you hear in grocery stores — which, it turns out, I like just as much as Captain Beefheart.” Lately, he’s been scoring films (Reno 911: Miami, The Ten), releasing solo albums (Lapland and a forthcoming album on Conor Oberst’s Team Love), and, no surprise, trying to re-learn Shudder songs — no easy feat 10 years later.