Concert Reviews

No Filler: Napalm Death, the Melvins and Melt Banana at the Ogden

If you were to envision a triple bill in which all the artists have international audiences and cult followings and exemplify certain rock subgenres, you could hardly do better than featuring Melt Banana, the Melvins and Napalm Death on that tour. Though either the Melvins or Napalm Death could have held down the headliner slot, the bands performed in alphabetical order (though we don't know if that was intentional).

Seemingly every other time Melt Banana has been through Denver, the band has played at much smaller clubs, like the Larimer Lounge or 15th St. Tavern, but the big stage didn't dilute the sound and impact of the act's furious, wiry, energetic performance. Yasuko Onuki, with her handheld sound controller, and guitarist Ichirou Agata looked like they were playing a maniacal video game that unleashed bursts of visceral and disorienting sound. The band perfected a form of psychedelic rock constructed of unexpected elements, but played with such speed and brevity that it worked.
The Melvins with Steve McDonald on bass felt a little bit like Blue Oyster Cult gone punk, but that was no bad thing. McDonald wore a black T-shirt that had the word “BASS” in silver letters stylized in the manner of a Kiss logo. Dale Crover wore one that said “DRUMS.” Buzz Osborne wore a permutation of that wizardly get-up he's been donning lately with the all-seeing eyes on front and back. Was it supposed to come off like a sendup of bombastic '70s rock? McDonald struck poses and made the occasional goofy face and variations of the "rocker face" many musicians use to express that they're caught up in the moment. He also wore shiny silver shoes that matched the word emblazoned on his shirt.

All of the above details would have meant little except for hints of inside joking if the band hadn't actually delivered a blistering, crushing performance of songs across much of its career.

At the end, Shane Embury of Napalm Death joined the Melvins on bass alongside McDonald for a borderline-frightening rendition of “Night Goat.” Yet as that song faded out, Crover led the band and the crowd in a version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” If any other band pulled something like that, it would have seemed weird and out of place, but the Melvins have long proven their collective diversity as a band and willingness to take you beyond your expectations. It also reaffirmed the band's willingness to pepper its set with surprises.
The last time Napalm Death played in Denver, Barney Greenway had a sling on his arm and went for it anyway. This time there were no such encumbrances and no shortage of jokes, with surprisingly fiery energy even by this band's standards. Before going into “How the Years Condemn,” Greenway made a comment about how everyone in the room and in the country deserved a life of dignity and happiness, and that, by extension, so did everyone in the world — except that some public figures seem to think otherwise. While mentioning the latter, Greenway's made a gesture with his hand as if he had a larger-than-necessary swoop of hair, like a certain orange-faced presidential hopeful. 

While Greenway did make reference to current political topics with comments like that, the band aimed at the deeper issues of its own music. For a handful of songs, Napalm reached back to 1987's Scum, a foundational document for grindcore, and the song "You Suffer" fit right into that segment of the show.

Maybe it was the example of the bands who played before, since Greenway could be seen checking out the Melvins show from off stage. Maybe Napalm Death has been working on cultivating its on-stage energy, but it gave the same level of engagement and unbound energy to old material and new, as well as inimitable covers of Cryptic Slaughter's “Lowlife” and “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” by Dead Kennedys. But even more than destroying expectations of a classic band with nearly thirty active years under its belt, it was obvious from the way the members of the band interacted with the crowd that it still likes to maintain its connection and solidarity with the people who show up, rendering the subject matter of the lyrics more than mere pose or detached outrage.  

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.