Live Review: The Melvins, Big Business and Secret Chiefs 3

The Melvins, Secret Chiefs 3 and Big Business Thursday, July 31, 2008 Ogden Theater Better Than: Almost every heavy rock show I’ve ever seen.

Maybe it was just the right day, or maybe the Melvins’ crowd is a cut above most, but I expected the show to be sheer mayhem with drunken jackasses making life difficult for everyone up front. But when I got inside things were pretty normal for a rock concert and throughout, with some notable exceptions, people seemed pretty respectful and genuinely into the music more than anything.

Secret Chiefs 3 came out all dressed in black, looking like agents of Hassan I Sabbah. Trey Spruance was especially cryptic with a hood and graying beard. His guitar looked a little like he’d taken one of those horrible Danelectro Longhorn guitar bodies, tricked it out with custom pickups he’d put in himself and attached a neck made from a smoothed out and appropriately trimmed, tree branch staff that he once used to summon the dark gods of experimental rock.

The act’s music was the type of prog-Persian-Arabic hybrid that you can get away with when you bother to put it together in as compelling a manner as the SC3. For their second song, and throughout the rest of the set, the initial three musicians were joined by two additional players. One on violin and guitar and the other on some type of hurdy gurdy played with a bow.

The third song was a powerful and menacing cover of John Carpenter’s theme from Halloween. The complex rhythms were a little hard to disentangle but, unlike a lot of prog-minded bands, these guys weren’t throwing around time signatures just to see if they could do it. Rather, they used the offbeat rhythms to give each song a unique texture that made for continually fascinating listening.

For the final number, the outfit created an ecstasy of maddening sound that ending abrubtly, like a door closing on an alternate reality. Afterward the band got cheers and applause twice — when leaving the stage and after coming back on to clear off their gear.

Big Business had a strong set of super heavy, fast rock and roll, and at first I thought the group was just a little better than the average hard rock band. Then it started to dawn on me how much Jared Warren sang like Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, with a combination of enraged and aggressive yet focused croons. The whole band was a bit like that except with less a sense of doom and the apocalypse that surrounds much of Killing Joke’s material. Coady Willis’ tom rolls were heady, and Toshi Kasai’s ability to instantly shift sonic characters on the guitar was impressive. The set was short, but it had me going from on the fence to being a fan. Big surprise for ex-members of Tight Bros. From Way Back When and Murder City Devils.

The Melvins came out without much preamble. Jared seemed to be wearing some kind of frock with an odd urn pattern and a glittery headband, as though he were some heroic ancient Greek king. King Buzzo seemed to be wearing a frock of his own but his was a black thing with something like a turtleneck. With his mass of graying hair he looked like he could have been the black sheep son of Thufir Hawat from David Lynch’s Dune.

As a recent convert to Melvins fandom, I didn’t recognize most of the songs in the set by title, but every single one was played with incredible finesse and energy. Buzzo was nimble and he strode decisively forward and nearly leapt backward with an ease and grace most people probably don’t associate with that voice he has.

Two songs in, it became obvious to me how many other groups have been influenced by the Melvins in ways they may not realize or readily acknowledge. Every stoner metal band I’ve seen may claim Sleep or Kyuss as a primary influence, but all I hear is the acrobatic fuzz and thrudding dynamics of the Melvins and King Buzzo’s way of delivering both incredibly cutting, melodic and powerful vocal lines while still sounding heavier than almost anyone.

The act’s cover of that Handel piece from The Shining, as was an the band’s take of the Who’s “My Generation,” which it twisted into a slow, chunky mass of sound. At one point the Melvins played “Hooch,” but I think a number of the songs were from their latest album. Nonetheless, for a generous eighteen songs, King Buzzo and company treated us to some of the most tastefully jagged, crushing, inspiringly heavy music of the last 25 years. Someone should give Dale Crover a rock and roll endurance award for pounding away even while other people were doing stuff like tuning guitars.

-- Tom Murphy

Personal Bias: There were only a few drunken knuckleheads around me, so I got to focus on the music and appreciate how great it all was. Random Detail: Becca Mhalek (Aenka, Nightshark, MVP) graciously offered to let me stand where she was to take pictures, and I’d have taken her up on her kind offer had I not seen that my flash might not have been strong enough from her decidedly better view. By the Way: King Buzzo is both a fantastic lead and rhythm player. Although his music may have rough edges, he and the rest of the band have clearly got their dynamics down to a science without killing the spontaneity.

This is the twenty-sixth in a series of thirty consecutive shows that Tom Murphy is planning on attending. His whole idea is to prove that there's cool stuff going on any night of the week in Denver, if you bother to make any effort whatsoever to find it. He suggested naming this series, "This Band Could Be Your Life," a fitting designation to be sure. Since there's already a similarly titled book, however, we opted to file these entries under Last Night's Show -- you know, to avoid being sued an all. (Sorry, Tom.)

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