[28 June 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
The fact that the Melvins have now put out no fewer than ten live albums gives you a not-so subtle indication of where this great American band’s real strengths lie. As consistently strong as their massive, 25-year body of studio recordings is, the best way to experience the Melvins is in a live setting, to experience firsthand the staggering thud of drums, the fillings-loosening guitar and bass tones, to be completely overwhelmed by the sound. However, it can be said that the Aberdeen, Washington sludge legends have never sounded stronger live than they do now. With guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover as the two constants, the band had gone through more than a dozen bass players over the years. But with the addition of the Big Business duo of bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis, the Melvins not only have put together one of the most stable lineups in the band’s long history, but also one of the most creatively fruitful as well. With three very good studio albums under their belts (2006’s (A) Senile Animal, 2008’s Nude with Boots, 2010’s The Bride Screamed Murder), it’s enough to convince anyone that taking on these two members was the best thing Osborne and Crover could ever have done.
As strong as the albums are, this current incarnation of the Melvins is absolutely pulverizing live, and we’re treated to some irrefutable evidence of the fact with the new live document Sugar Daddy Live, an hour-long set featuring 12 originals and one very strange cover which showcases this mighty band at its finest. Interestingly, this album was recorded during the Nude with Boots touring cycle rather than the tour for the last album, so the song selections lean heavily toward that album and (A) Senile Animal. While many longtime fans tend to gripe about how veteran bands focus too heavily on their recent material rather than churning out the seminal classics, with the Melvins the choice is completely warranted based on just how good the new material actually is.
In fact, the four selections from Nude with Boots are superior to the originals. If that album had a fault, it’s that it didn’t convey the power of the foursome as well as it should have, but here the songs are perfect blends of primal ferocity and genuine hookiness. The switch to the dual drummers set-up was an inspired decision, as it’s clear that Crover and Willis have great chemistry between them, and they not only make a song like “The Kicking Machine” so much more viscerally powerful than on record, but their sense of groove makes the ebullient track all the livelier. The same goes for the fun “Nude with Boots”, while “Dog Island” sees Osborne taking over, his churning riffs and unmistakable vocal style driving the tune. The Melvins-ized take on The Shining‘s ominous theme “Dies Iraea”, meanwhile, is much more imposing than on record, the rawer recording improving the song immeasurably.
Not surprisingly, the five songs from (A) Senile Animal, the band’s much-ballyhooed return to form, sound fantastic here. Osborne’s powerful lead vocals are supported by some very effective backing harmonies on “Civilized Worm”, while the unrelenting intensity of “Rat Faced Granny”, “The Hawk”, “You’ve Never Been Right”, and “A History of Bad Men” serves as a ripping climax of four consecutive songs. Along with a straight-faced, a cappella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” that must have befuddled many an audience member, we’re treated to three older cuts, all of which don’t disappoint, from the monolithic doom strains of Gluey Porch Treatments’ classic “Eye Flys”, to the keyboard-enhanced “Tipping the Lion” from 1996’s Stag, to the monstrous, incomparable epic “Boris” from 1991’s Bullhead. For fans of the present day version of the Melvins, this is essential listening. For those who haven’t heard the band in a while, you’re in for one hell of a surprise.