Live Review: The Melvins

by Mitch Goldman

RKCNDY, Seattle, WA 10/10/96

Billed as "An Evening with The Melvins," the final stop on the sludge-rock trio's fall tour in Seattle showed the seminal band in all of their bizarre, inscrutable glory. Buzz Osborne, lead singer, guitarist, and twisted visionary, led the trio on a three-set extravaganza that covered progressive instrumental passages, full-tilt rock numbers, and a bunch of songs from the band's latest head-scratcher Stag.

Set one found Buzz on bass and bass player Mark Deutrom on guitar (with founding Melvins member and one-time Nirvana drummer Dale Crover behind the drum kit, gong poised above his head). Buzz, wearing a red flannel shirt and striped clown pants, was po sitively throbbing on the bass while Mark shredded on lead guitar in a metallic manner that the chord-heavy Buzz normally can't match. Opening with a quiet instrumental that led into a Hawkwind-inspired jam (with Dale on synthesizer), the Melvins built their momentum slowly. Eventually this extended piece gave way to some recognizable tunes, most notably the instrumental "June Bug" (from 1994's Stoner Witch) and the strange bass-driven "Sky Pup" (from 1993's Houdini).

Set two was more traditional, with Buzz and Mark back on their regular instruments. Still building in intensity, the Melvins played the set opener, "At the Stake," at about half volume, jumping into a full half-hour mostly of material from th e strange new album Stag. Tunes that are incomprehensible on record (like the cartoon-voiced "Skinhorse," sung live by Buzz in his normal voice) really came alive on stage. Rather than sounding like a massively unfocused group of so ngs (which is how the album plays when you listen to it straight through), the Stag material took on a life of its own, showing the diversity and downright strangeness that has been part of the Melvins' approach since their first album Gluey Porch Treatments came out in 1988. By the time the trio launched into the Stag segue of "Captain Pungent" and "Berthas," they'd hit a new plateau of intensity. As if to break the momentum, Buzz handed Dale his Les Paul guitar, and Dale did a solo version of his Delta blues spoof "Cottonmouth," strumming the guitar while keeping time with the bass drum pedal.

Set three was a complete Melvins show unto itself, clocking in at one hour and blasting off at full volume with "Revolve." From there it was a fan's dream of songs: great new tunes such as "The Bloat" and "The Bit," older tunes such as a feedback laden "Nightgoat" and the blistering "Antioxidote" (from the Eggnog EP of 1991), a brand new song called "Speciman" (which was like a mini-Melvins rock opera, evolving through several fas t and slow phases), and two great covers: a painfully slow rendering of the old Fleetwood Mac tune "The Green Manalishi" and a positively demonic version of Flipper's "Sacrifice," which ended the show. Through it all, Buzz looked posse ssed and occasionally downright scary, grabbing the microphone and spitting out his lyrics with rage and madness in his eyes (not to mention his Eraserhead-style head of hair). Dale and Mark throbbed along accordingly (Dale is one of the most power ful drummers in rock these days), and the packed RKCNDY crowd moshed and sang along. Two and a half hours after they took the stage, the Melvins said goodbye to six hundred exhausted fans.

Playing a show with this rare format, the Melvins bridged the gap between the self-indulgence of '70s progressive rock and the terse, all-too-brief approach of most modern rock bands. It's not every day you see a band reveal so much of themselves in on e evening, and it's not every band that has so much to reveal; few hard rock bands can pass themselves off as metal, grunge, progressive rock, jazz, punk. The Melvins squeezed an amazing array of genre-hopping in this show, while still sounding l ike no other band on earth.


Set 1 (8:03-8:29)
Instrumental thing->
"Hawkwind" space jam*->
Eye Flys->
June Bug->
Sky Pup**

(whole set w/ Buzz on bass and Mark on guitar)

*Dale on synthesizer
**Mark on lead vocal

Set 2 (8:45-9:15)
At the Stake->
Tipping the Lion->
Goose Freight Train->
Captain Pungent->
Cotton Mouth*

*Dale solo vocal, on Buzz's Les Paul and drums

Set 3 (9:31-10:31)
Sweet Willie Rollbar
Buck Owens->
The Bloat->
The Bit->
The Green Manalishi->

Copyright © 1996

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