The Melvins have been an entity for quite a while, having been a major influence on the late-’80s/early-’90s Seattle-area alternative rock scene, as well as experimental metal bands such as Isis and Neurosis. In fact, this is their 30th Anniversary Tour. They have a reputation for taking heavy metal beyond its perceived boundaries, playing with extreme dynamics, sonic experimentation, slow tempos, and absurd lyrics to create an evil and demented sound, which, however goofy in some instances, is somehow inviting.
Touring with The Melvins is Honky, led by former Butthole Surfers bassist, Jeff Pinkus, with Bobby Ed Landgraf on guitar, and backed by Dale Crover, one of two Melvins drummers. Honky’s sound is not hard to pin down – think of something between ZZ Top and Judas Priest. Landgraf is exciting enough as a soloist; in fact his flashy technique and persona keep the listener quite thoroughly engaged. He and Pinkus managed to perform well enough to prove that opening a show is no excuse for a lackluster set.
However, the songs quickly began to blur together in the memory. There have been a number bands to make a good career out of four-chord hard rockers about women, weed, and Texas, but I’m not convinced that they make a good precursor to The Melvins. Nothing could take away from Crover’s playing, though. The man is a monster drummer, and he kept my attention most of the set.
The Melvins’ lineup is slightly modified for this tour, with Pinkus stepping in for their regular bassist, Jared Warren. Pinkus didn’t don Warren’s costume backstage, but nevertheless they rocked as heavily, scarily, and weirdly (quota met!) as ever. Guitarist/lead singer Buzz Osborne’s is an unforgettable presence. He’s a big guy with a wild plume of grey hair, dressed in the Sally Ann store equivalent of Sunn O)))’s Satanic monk garb: a floor-length, black turtleneck number with floral chest-piece. Attractive.
Attire aside, stage presentation is a strength of this band, though it is very particular to their own brand of absurdist-metal brutality. They are at once dead serious and totally aware of how ridiculous they are, an elusive and fascinating paradox. Twin drummers Crover and Coady Willis were invariably tight, tasteful, and coherent, yet menacing. The setlist was an appropriate blend of classics from their ’90s albums and their more recent material. It seems they have a good grasp of their audience’s psychology – that, or they just like getting reactions – as evidenced by how well they retained attention. Their mastery of musical tension means that the audience was constantly whipped to a froth of anticipation, ready to go mental when the payoff came. The “missing” notes and drum hits are at least as important as the ones you hear. Few metal musicians are such intelligent composers to do that.
And if you could buy into the bizarre internal logic of it all, it only got better when Dale got up off the throne to take centre-stage and do his best Elvis-style hip-swaying act… pausing only to eat the banana he’d hidden in his shorts. (I’m convinced he planned that just to baffle journalists like me. The innuendo is somehow even more obvious on paper!)
We’ll never know what else they had up their sleeves, or tucked into their waistbands, as the case may be. Just as Dale was getting into frontman mode, Buzz got hit by a thrown drink cup, and that was it. Show over, the band walks, and the road crew starts tearing down. Any illusion that Buzz would get over it and finish the set faded within seconds, and the place cleared out in about 15 minutes. The only remaining satisfaction the audience got was seeing the kid who threw the cup (which was plastic, to be clear) get dragged out by VPD, and Buzz storming out in civvies to cuss him out as the cops put cuffs on him.
According to news sources, the thrower claimed it was an honest mistake. A little overstimulated by the music and mosh pit – not to mention tripping balls on shrooms – he’d thought it was in the proper punk rock spirit. Buzzo didn’t agree, apparently. I can’t really fault the band for quitting. They’re not kids anymore. They can afford to refuse to put up with this kind of behaviour. Still, for the fans’ sake, I wished they would have extended a little grace, rather than making them walk away unhappy.