A popular approach to media writing is the commonly referenced but vaguely explained “belt.” You might know exactly what I’m talking about, or maybe you don’t. Let’s start with the belt, itself - It’s a highly familiar object that conjures up multiple interpretations, but in the end, the version of “belt” that’s most closely aligned with this lede is that of the champion’s belt. Whether it’s MMA (Conor McGregor) or WWE (John Cena), the be all end all, coup de gras is the belt. That’s what everyone’s fighting for, whether they’re in the championship match, or they’re only in a preliminary bout. Pretty straightforward in that sense.
In the world of media writing - as both WWE and MMA are surprisingly popular (the former being an ironic sense, and the latter being a more primal one) amongst the media writing masses - “the belt” has become a popularized method of tracking the “best of” leading up to year-end lists. Granted, not every media writing individual understands the origin of “the belt” just as I’m sure not every project manager knows that “calling an audible” is a football reference, but to know the origin of “the belt” is to better understand inconsequential opinion pieces.
With all that in mind, when it comes to “the belt” for best show to roll through Nashville in 2018, Shame (South London’s post punk wunderkinds, and all lower case is the apparent ) have assumed the mantle. I’ll admit, I came into Shame’s stop at The High Watt off of a 36-hour discography bender, but I figure that all but heightened the experience.
I had inklings that I might enjoy their music, as their name seemed to continually show up on suggested listening lists and all sorts of email blasts sporting a variety of “if you like band x, then listen to Shame!” tags. But for whatever reason, I never fully dove in. I even looked at the album art, their socials, and the like, and that all seemed quite agreeable with my tastes, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t until I read a blurb from none other than NPR’s Bob Boilen, who said of the 70 bands he saw at SXSW 2017, Shame was “the most believable.” Regardless of what you think of Boilen’s purview, that’s some high praise, in one way or another.
So, I spent virtually all of my music listening time on Wednesday and Thursday pouring through the group’s full-length debut, Songs of Praise. All I can say is that it is now my favorite album of the year (full disclosure, I’ve only been listening to it for five days straight, so, might be a limited sample size, but whatever….). Then the show came, and that all but sealed the deal.
Following an opening set from local post-punkers TWEN, Shame inconspicuously took the stage. Being a five piece, it was kind of crowded, their rented SIR equipment and Marshall stacks pressed forward to make space for Protomartyr’s set to follow. Admittedly, the band did seem younger than I was anticipating, rolling on to stage sipping Red Bulls instead of beers (bar for one or two members), but that holds little to no weight with regard to their show actually being good.
In listening to Songs of Praise on repeat, I had hoped they would open the set with the album opener, “Dust on Trial,” and sure enough, they did. Granted, I expected an almost too-cool-for-school, Joy Division meets The Fall approach, but what I got was the most delightfully ferocious salutation to a Nashville crowd. Frontman Charlie Steen is and will inevitably continue to be a force to be reckoned with amongst any music scene, but his propensity for lithe brutality and raw tact could potentially set him as a new-era Henry Rollins. There’s the unabashed bravado of a Gallagher, the discharge of supreme coolness a la Alex Turner, and the wallop of Glenn Danzig. The way Steen commands the stage while other members thrash about behind him is mesmerizing.
As for the rest of the band, the aforementioned thrashing would undoubtedly lead to some presumed sloppiness, but while bassist Josh Finerty cavorts about, he somehow manages to do far more than just hitting root notes. The band is tight - thanks in large part to drummer Charlie Forbes and Finerty - and dynamic, due to the unbelievable guitar tact of Sean Coyle Smith on top of Eddie Green’s frenetic fingers. And all of that combined makes for the best show I’ve seen in Nashville in 2018. Hands down. So with that in mind, I’d highly suggest seeing Shame if you have the chance. It’s a spectacle. It’s a feat. It’s a marvel. It’s a sight to be seen again, and again, and again.