1999 : SHACK, LIVERPOOL L2, (NME, 13 NOV 1999)

Backstage, the band’s name is being wielded as a verb – to get Shacked. As in to be drawn into Shack’s chaotic, hedonistic tailwinds. To get royally trashed and savour that fleeting moment of scattered lucidity.

Tonight, Liverpool gets royally Shacked. Pearls of applause break out spontaneously. Between every single song, Michael Head (tonsorially sculptured in a shocking Travis Bickie Stylee) will clear his throat and whisper “Nice one”, recognise a familiar face in the audience and wink to them, then count in another sliver of perfect acoustic grace.

And grace is the word tonight, seeping out of Head’s fingers as he strums each song. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Head’s torturous career will be familiary with the mountains climbed getting here. If the spectres of Head’s trials and tribulations hover above him tonight, it’s only to will him on. Because, tonight, Shack greet their sell-out Liverpool date as some kind of just deserts, and play as if to prove it.

They start with Streets of Kenny, and if, on record, Shack sometimes feel like Michael Head and occasional supporting musicians, live the band come into their own, gelling as some delicious psychedelic folk unit. Brother John’s chiming, iredescent lead guitar just shines so bright, casting Queen Matilda as The Byrds playing the coda to I Am The Resurrection and painting Solid Gold like the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever heard.

But, of course, the heart of Shack is Michael Head’s songwriting, as the narcotic coast of X Hits The Spot attests. Is he the best songwriter of our generation? Questionable – the fountain of pop gushes in too many rainbow colours to be pinned down to one figurehead. But are there any other songwriters of our age who can wrench such fresh beauty, with so little cynicism, from such familiar ingredients? Head is truly remarkable, a wayfarer plotting his own wayward journey from squats and destitution through to a sold-out L2, and beyond. His compass is his talent, his self-confidence, his wilful dismissal of even the slightest shade of right-minded careerism.

Maybe once or twice in the past he’s lost his way. But Head knows that the strongest, most beautiful flowers grow wild among the weeds. Tonight, Shack showed their mettle when it counted, shone just when they needed to.

Totally Shacked. Nice one.


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Zilch (1988)
1. Emergency (listen)
2. Someone’s Knocking (listen)
3. John Kline (listen)
4. I Need You (listen)
5. Realization (listen)
6. High Rise Low Life (listen)
7. Who Killed Clayton Square? (listen)
8. Who’d Believe It? (listen)
9. What’s It Like… (listen)
10. The Believers (listen)