Melvins Lite? There was nothing "lite" about this show. As soon as the stage lights dimmed, a loop of the coughing at the beginning of Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf" filled the air for what seemed like a comically extended period of time until Trevor Dunn stepped on stage -- dressed in what looked like a cross between an Australian school boy, á la Angus Young, and a day trader right after work -- and the main riff came in. He quickly took his place and overwhelmed any loop with a bowed upright bass riff that sounded like a musical foghorn, the likes of which could have served as the end times sound at the denouement of Kevin Smith's film Red State. Even before Dale Crover and Buzz Osborne strode on to stage, the show began on an especially weighty note.
The dynamic of this line-up was fascinating to see, as Osborne and Crover at times seemed to be waiting to see which direction Dunn would take the song and where it would break. Also, you could feel the creation of tension between Osborne and Crover, which was released at the perfect time. Even as cutting as the guitar sound could be, there was something very sinuous about the execution. Dunn and Crover's syncopated rhythms made for a superb dynamic in which neither dominated that side of the music. Surely these guys are well practiced, but their ability to work with each other seemed telepathic in its automatic ability to synch up and anticipate where the rhythm and textures should flow.
Osborne gets pigeonholed as a master of sludge metal, which he is, but at this show, the sheer diversity of moods, modes, textures and atmospheres was very impressive. Playing with Crover and Dunn, it was like seeing what could have been a very odd jazz band if it wasn't so grounded in rock and roll. Dunn, especially, brought in some jazz sensibility, not just because he was playing an upright, but because his passages of apparent improv clearly guided parts of songs, as mentioned before, with Osborne and Crover looking over at him looking for the subtle cues to change tempo or volume or tone immediately.
Throughout the show, Dale Crover proved that he is one of the most -- if not the most -- versatile and impressive drummers in rock music alive today. He shifted effortlessly across a wide range of techniques and styles, displaying taste, power and an ability to not only set the pace but to match his bandmates with the fluidity of a true master.
At one point, Osborne noticed a guy in the front was bleeding, at which point he stopped the show and pointed to guy and told him he looked like he was in bad shape and that he needed to get it looked at. The guy seemed to brush off Osborne's comments, but Osborne, who has surely seen more than his fair share of gnarly injuries at shows, insisted, "No, really, you look like you're in bad shape." The guy walked to get help, and Osborne asked people to be cool and let him go. Some bands would just see that and figure it's part of the show. Osborne was enough of a decent guy to bring the show to a stop to make sure someone who really was hurt got some help.
The band followed up the bleeding incident with "Baby, Won't You Weird Me Out," with a bass line that at times recalled Curtis Mayfield's "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Going to Go." Toward the end, after a rousing performance of "Electric Flower," Dunn stayed on stage while Osborne and Crover left, and he played a bass solo that included bits of Van Halen's "Eruption" and "Over the Rainbow." Osborne and Crover came back, and the show ended with a forceful take on "Shevil."
Opening the show was Carbondale, Illinois' own Tweak Bird, with hanging notes distorted and drawn out into a sound like the controlled and sustained buzz of angry hornets. Most of the expressiveness and dynamism of the music came from the drummer, who looked on in bemused anticipation at his bandmate on guitar and vocals. The guitar work seemed simple enough, steeped in drone, psyche-sludge-metal ideas, but, more than that, the guy seemed to hit on the beat, like he was playing a percussive style without playing an acoustic guitar. Perhaps more like he was playing well-syncopated bass lines on guitar while utilizing the broad tonal range of the guitar.
The singing from both members of the band sounded like disembodied voices coming through a TV or radio on the blink -- distant and somewhat haunting. But there was nothing distant about this music that enveloped you. A nice touch happened when the guitarist triggered the Theremin on top of his amp, looping it and letting it set a shimmering, UFO-noise back drop to otherwise gritty psychedelia.
Personal Bias: Melvins is one of my favorite bands right now.
Random Detail: Ran into Andrew Novick formerly of Warlock Pinchers and Scramblehead, Will Schiesser of Governors, the guys from Action Friend and Ben Slagowski of Osyluth at this show.
By the Way: This was show #8 of this 51 show tour to set a world record for the fastest tour of the 50 United States plus DC.