[4 September 2008]
Since their inception in the early 1980s, the Melvins have always been slightly ahead of the musical curve. They were grunge before flannel and dirty long hair became fashionable. They were sludge before that particular genre’s odd moniker was created. They experimented with traditional metal when other acts were simply trying to catch up. To say they were (and are) influential would be an understatement. Besides the whole Seattle movement that many ‘90s children remember with somber glee, the Melvins helped mold acts that continue to remain relevant. (Boris, a Japanese-doom, garage-punk, stoner-metal, always-experimenting group, named themselves after the Melvins track of the same name off Bullhead.) Just as the Melvins switched styles from one album to the next, they had a similar revolving door policy for bassists. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but they are on their sixth bassist with Big Business’s Jarred Warren currently providing the low end. And like any good band mate, Warren brought along his rhythm section anchor Coady Willis, an absolute maniac on the skins.
Before taking the stage with the Melvins, Big Business slammed through several choice tracks from their own previous efforts. Warren, who wore a tight white T-shirt featuring a unicorn and rainbow, wasn’t terribly interactive, but he still put on a great performance. And, of course, Willis played the hell out of his drums. He even broke the tip off one of his drumsticks. The duo was joined onstage by new member Toshi Kasai, who plays guitar and shares vocal duties. The trio’s tight set included Here Comes the Waterworks standouts like crowd-favorite “Hands Up” and “Start Your Digging”.
The night’s opening act was Porn, also known as the worst band name to search for online. The band’s frontman, Tim Moss, used loops, feedback, and noise to create an insane ambiance that bounced around the walls for nearly 20 minutes. Dale Crover, whose intricate drumming matched Moss’ incessant wall of sound and Kasai, who was on the other end of the stage, where he could be found playing a glitched keyboard, joined him. Altogether, the three rockers droned through tracks that caught most of the crowd’s attention.
As I had expressed in my review of the Boris show at the Middle East last month, my expectations going into the Paradise Rock Club were similarly mixed to say the least. Of course, the Melvins were going to spend time promoting and rollicking through their latest album, Nude With Boots. But how would the older, heavier, dirtier tracks sound mixed in with the band’s recent penchant for classic-rock-tinged songs? My answer: The word seamless comes to mind. From drummer battles to “The Star-Spangled Banner” to a stunningly perfect cover of “My Generation”, the Melvins put on more than just a show. They proved that they are not just your favorite band’s favorite band, but are an act capable of sustaining a career for about 25 years, or the equivalent of three musical lifetimes.
When King Buzzo, a.k.a. Buzz Osborne, draped in a black cloak, stepped on stage, the entire room’s mood changed. Nearly everyone in the club was grinning in anticipation of that first grimy note. And when it hit, the smiles turned into smirks. We all nodded, head-banged, and tapped along, though the latter proved the most difficult. Drummer-extraordinaire Dale Crover is not your typical “metal” drummer. And neither is Willis, who gazed at Crover like a proud son, waiting for his next move. So you can imagine the challenge of trying to keep both their tempos as they hit their drum kits with extreme prejudice.
Having never seen two drummers play at the same time, I was at first just blown away by their ability to keep a solid, synchronized rhythm. But when they played off one another’s beat for their own percussionists take on “Dueling Banjos”, my jaw hit the floor. Madmen by themselves, Willis and Crover together put on a drumming display that stole the show. Fills and solos aside, the most interesting moment came during their cover of The Who’s “My Generation”. Rather than have Buzzo and Warren handle vocal duties, they remained stoic as Willis and Crover sang, giving the track a darker-than-dark feel. And they did it while hitting each and every drumhead.
As awe-inspiring as that all was, Buzzo still held the crowd in the palm of his eclectic hand. His guitar playing has never been outwardly breathtaking, but he shook the room with his chugging riffs and solos. He and Warren, who is a monster on the bass, sounded just as they do on record. Whether they were playing their respective instruments or singing, every heavy riff and guttural vocal came through crystal clear. They even toned down their somewhat over-the-top vocals for an excellent rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, which saw the two drummers filling in for the bombs bursting in air.
When it came to them playing actual Melvins tunes, the foursome was just as impressive. More recent cuts like “Civilized Worm” and “Rat Faced Granny” off (A) Senile Animal had the otherwise respectful crowd thinking twice about the “no moshing” sign; though the night remained civilized otherwise. Similarly, the Nude With Boots title-track and album-opener “The Kicking Machine” kicked us all in the chest. But the highlights of the set came during two older tracks, Houdini‘s “Hooch” and the aforementioned “Boris”. Those previously mentioned smiles returned for both songs that proved that the Melvins can and will remain relevant until they finally decide to hang it up. Let’s just hope that day never comes.