[live review] Melvins confound, per usual, with head-scratching/blistering set at Paradise

A typical review of a MELVINS gig will spew forth descriptors like “bludgeoning” and “sludge” and other various ways of insinuating that the show was loud and intimidating. And yes, Melvins are a loud band. And yes again, they are intimidating, especially to the uninitiated: because let’s face it, King Buzzo and company, twenty-plus albums into a three decade career, have largely veered away from having recognizable “hits” or anything really for a newcomers to grab onto. And that’s kind of the deal with Melvinsmusic: not only are there rarely sticky hooks, there are almost never comprehensible words. A perfect example is “Hooch”, from 1992’s major-label debut Houdini, which the band fired off like a flicked pick into the crowd at last night’s show at the Paradise: when the album came out, it featured the lyrics to the song printed out in the liner notes (a first and only for the band, I think). “Milk maid dud bean/Master a load a head/Pill pop a dope a well run/General hash pump a gonna lead” is a typical verse for the song, and in a sense this proved what both Melvins fans and detractors had long-since speculated: that these songs were about NOTHING and were essential NONSENSE. Thirty years into this prolific career, then, the question remains: why should anyone care about this band if their music doesn’t mean anything?

The answer, of course, is plainly obvious to anyone who listens to their music and/or sees them live: because they fucking rule, end of story. When I spoke to Buzz a few weeks ago, he mused that what Melvins does is "just music"-- but it's clear when you witness them at their wings-spread live majesty that what they do on a stage transcends just playing a few ditties to get heads bopping. At last night’s show, Melvins (or “Melvins Lite” as they billed themselves, stripped down to a trio again with drummer extraordinaire Dale Crover and towing along upright bassist Trevor Dunn) plowed through a knotted set that spotlighted the nooks and crannies of their latest long-player, the aptly-titled Freak Puke. But lest you suspect that the band has been getting “weird” of late, losing the plot from their major label grunge/metal commercial heyday, consider that set opener “Eye Flys”, one of the weirdest rock songs ever committed to wax, is the first song from the band’s 1987 debut long-player. “Eye Flys”, a wide-open and eerie exploration of space and dissonance that is both creepy and gargantuan, as performed last night was absolutely confounding, as Buzzo and company built the song’s simple bass mantra into the ground and up through builds and anticipation/tension/release volleys that were thrilling and spine-tingling, until eventually the piece spilled over into riff rock that was just obliterating.

It’s worth noting just how ahead of its time “Eye Flys” was and remains: it would be one thing if a song like this, with its sly allusions to avant-garde and obscure “out” musics melding with punk and metal conventions, was made nowadays by a group of cool-record-collection-having urban hipsters; but it was made by instead by a trio of rural Washingtonians who were attempting to ply this weirdness on a D.I.Y. punk community that was far too skinhead and conservative (musically-speaking) to be able to handle a little Albert Ayler in their hardcore. The entirety of Gluey Porch Treatments is as re-assemblage of several decades of rock styles both high and low culture, tossing Gang of Four, PiL, Kiss, Sabbath, Beefheart, Grand Funk, On The Corner-era Miles, 70s King Crimson, and a thousand other reference points into a blended stew of sheer awesomeness. Last night’s set proved that Melvins are still into the same Cuisinart-esque aesthetic, as warped covers of Paul McCartney/Wings obscurities rubbed elbows with the band’s own most out-there material.

The highlight was, in typical Melvins fashion, the moment when the band zagged when everyone was pumped for a zig: as Buzzo and Crover walked offstage at the end of the set proper, bassist Dunn (looking like a homeless nerd in shorts, horned-rim glasses, Yankees cap and white-shirt-and-tie) attacked his instrument with a bow, coaxing out demonic versions of film-score favorites like the theme from Jaws and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, bringing things to a screeching crescendo before the band came back and burst into... “Shevil”, the low-key psych dirge-lullabye that sort-of closes 1995’s masterpiece Stoner Witch. As Dunn’s bow-work splattered mournful squiggles all around the tunes central melody, Buzzo, in his sweetest Freddie Mercury imitation, brought the proceedings to an strangely non-”bludgeoning” anticlimax. Eventually, the tune ended, Buzzo walked off again, Dunn left his bass rumbling with a looped delay, Crover was left alone to slowly bash through the song’s denouement in the solo spotlight. It was a fittingly drained ending to a 90-minute journey through the enervating and diverse musical alternate reality that Buzzo and his band have spent all this time constructing around them. Most bands attempt to constantly push their musical wares into the public consciousness-- what’s so special about Melvins is the way that they create their own private realm, which you can lose yourself in any time they roll through town.
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