The Melvins: No Bullshit, Just Sludge
Leif Bearikson and Lacertilian asked a fantastic question not long ago: why are the Melvins? I recently got the chance to see them for a second time, and I still have no idea.
Being an admittedly enormous fan of the band, I made the journey to the Gothic Theatre in scenic Englewood, Colorado to take in a stop of their Escape from Hollywood Tour with Redd Kross and Toshi Kasai. The Melvins have a history of unique choices in supporting acts, and I deliberately chose not to do any research before the show. While this largely worked out, I’m not sure even a full description would prepare me for the first act of the night.
The evening began with the musical and visual stylings of occasional Melvins and Big Business collaborator Toshi Kasai. Manipulating a complex electronic contraption, Kasai played a keyboard and effect-driven piece that generated a waveform image projected on a nearby screen. In practice it resembled a high school talent show project, and its quality depended entirely on how much weed the audience had consumed.* I didn’t get much out of it, while the guy next to me looked like he was Dave Bowman ascending into the monolith. Although not the greatest musical experience I’ve ever sat through while drinking overpriced PBR, Kasai’s performance was easily the most unique opener I’ve ever seen. At about 20 minutes, it was also mercifully brief.
Redd Kross and Melvins each had an hour set, with Redd Kross taking the support slot. Redd Kross served up an incredibly energetic set of melodic punk rock seasoned with the classic rock stylings of lead guitarist Jason Shapiro. Having never listened to a second of their music before they hit the stage, I was honestly shocked at how quickly they won me over; brothers Steven and Jeff McDonald (bass and rhythm guitar, respectively) somehow looked like they were having the time of their lives even 30+ years into their career. Redd Kross obviously weren’t the band most of the audience was there to see, but by the end of the set most of the audience was clearly enjoying the show.
As for the Melvins, the set was their usual: no bullshit, just sludge.
Although the Melvins have been playing with either two drummers or two bassists for the better part of the last 20 years, at the Gothic they were down to usual suspects Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover, with Steven McDonald on bass following his set with Redd Kross. King Buzzo hit the stage in the elaborate Doc Brown coiffure and sequined bathrobe that somehow became his signature getup, and I was pleased to note that his ranting-from-a-mountaintop vocal style is as powerful as ever. Crover is still one of the best drummers in the game, his rhythmic contortions driving every song. Although McDonald’s bass style meshes perfectly with the band’s volcanic pounding, his stage presence makes for a bizarre contrast with Osborne’s constant scowl. He danced and mugged his way through the hour set, and I’m not entirely sure if he’s either not clued into the band’s absurd seriousness or is deliberately winking at it.
Especially in recent years, the Melvins on record are prone to going off on tangents that can be tolerably interesting at best and inexplicable at worst. Their live shows are a different beast entirely. With 27 albums under their belts, the band is free to pick and choose their best material. In a more animated context and free from the awful production that plagued their first few albums, newer material (“The Kicking Machine,” “Sesame Street Meat”) sounded perfectly of a piece with their early ragers (“Anaconda,” “Oven”). While I have some favorites that didn’t make the setlist, on the whole the older and newer material, sprinkled with covers like Kiss’s ubiquitous “Deuce” played with Jeff from Redd Kross, hit all the right notes. The Melvins’ songs already tend toward abrupt transitions, so on stage the band simply moved immediately from one song to another with only the occasional break to re-tune.
While I understand and largely agree with every criticism leveled at the Melvins, I wasn’t thinking about any of them while they were on stage. They’ve always been a top-notch live act, and if the set I saw was any indication, they’re in no danger of slowing down soon. Fans of the band have no excuse not to get to a show, and even those who aren’t fully sold on their admittedly heavy schtick should enjoy their no-nonsense set.
*On a scale of Nancy Reagan to Tommy Chong, I was at roughly Sam the Eagle.
[4.5 Flaming Toilets]
GRATUITOUS MERCH PORN CORNER
Upcoming Melvins/Redd Kross/Toshi Kasai dates:
September 27, 2019 – St. Louis, MO – The Ready Room
September 28, 2019 – Louisville, KY – Louder Than Life festival
September 30, 2019 – Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue
October 1, 2019 – Grand Rapids, MI – Pyramid Scheme
October 2, 2019 – Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop
October 3, 2019 – Detroit, MI – El Club
October 4, 2019 – Columbus, OH – A&R Music Bar
October 5, 2019 – Pittsburgh, PA – Red Theatre
October 7, 2019 – Syracuse, NY – Wescott Theatre
October 8, 2019 – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club
October 9, 2019 – Hamden, CT – Space Ballroom
October 10, 2019 – Brooklyn, NY – Warsaw
October 11, 2019 – Asbury Park, NJ – Stone Pony
October 12, 2019 – Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts
October 13, 2019 – Baltimore, MD – Otto Bar
October 15, 2019 – Richmond, VA – The Broadberry
October 16, 2019 – Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle
October 17, 2019 – Charlotte, NC – Visulite Theatre
October 18, 2019 – Athens, GA 40 – Watt Club
October 19, 2019 – Birmingham, AL – Saturn
October 21, 2019 – Orlando, FL – The Social
October 22, 2019 – Fort Lauderdale, FL – Culture Room
October 23, 2019 – Tampa, FL – The Orpheum
October 25, 2019 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall
October 26, 2019 – New Orleans, LA – One Eyed Jacks
October 27, 2019 – Baton Rouge, LA – Spanish Moon
October 28, 2019 – Houston, TX – Warehouse Live Studio
October 29, 2019 – San Antonio, TX – Paper Tiger
October 30, 2019 – Austin, TX – Mohawk
October 31, 2019 – Dallas, TX – Trees
November 3, 2019 – Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
November 4, 2019 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
November 5, 2019 – Las Vegas, NV – Bunkhouse Saloon
November 7, 2019 – Long Beach, CA – Alex’s Bar
November 8, 2019 – Los Angeles, CA – The Echo