Live Review, 7/20/12: Melvins Lite Defy Their Moniker at Slim's
Melvins Lite performing at Slim's on Friday.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Better than: Hauling around your biggest amplifiers.
The Melvins may need no introduction, but they sure as hell suggest a lot of qualifiers. Relentlessly undervalued and namechecked by an artistic world that needs them more than it wants them, the band is the David Lynch of modern rock. And like Lynch, our fascination with the Melvins began in the Pacific Northwest.
Atlantic Records sold them to the public at large as a grunge band, which was a bad call for all involved. They predated most of the grungers by a decade, essentially sharing nothing more than geography with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and their ilk, and certainly nothing as substantive as a "look" or a "sound." Speaking of "sound," The Melvins don't really have one, which was a big part of what made them a tough sell during their short-lived major label stint. If anything they have an aesthetic -- an utterly squirmy one that's taken them through punk, doom metal, noise, quiet post-rock, and most points in between.
Which is all to say that advertising tonight's Melvins Lite set -- featuring Mr. Bungle alum Trevor Dunn on upright bass -- as somehow uncharacteristically mellow is somewhat of a misnomer for a band as devoid of a typical sonic character as The Melvins. Well, okay, they tend to be a loud rock band. And yet, one comes to a performance like Melvins Lite less concerned that this loud rock band (with a preternaturally talented, classically-trained bassist, to boot) can pull this show off, and more thrilled for what novel textures this approach might illuminate.
Openers Hepa/Titus, new project of former Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis, plays the kind of skewed aggressive post-punk that bands like Shellac and The Jesus Lizard popularized. It's a mode The Melvins themselves have been known to traffic in, which makes it all the more surprising that it doesn't really connect with tonight's audience. It's nonetheless an appropriate soundtrack to the steadily-filling Slim's, though the weird rock cognoscenti of S.F. were clearly ready for more challenging fare.
Anticipation was tremendous for The Melvins to the point where merely appearing onstage seemed to provide fulfillment for at least 75 percent of tonight's crowd. After a frankly stunning solo bass prelude by Mr. Dunn, Dale Crover began pounding the ever-loving snot out of his drums, signalling that the "Lite" designation was
wholly relative. The great afro'd Buzz Osborne then led the band into an excoriating rendition of classic "Eye Flys" that set the tone for a night with Melvins at their most straight-up rocking. If it was surprising that they opted to eke such minimal mileage from this creative orchestration, no one in attendance at Slim's seemed to mind. Indeed, as a veteran of several Melvins performances, I'm hard pressed to recall this much enthusiasm from band and fans alike.
The true highlights were those moments when they delivered on the Lite part of things. It's in these spaces that the band's gift for texture and Osborne's almost wholly ignored knack for clever, abstract lyrics (and a pretty dang soulful voice) get to shine.
All told, it was a blistering set delivered with more than a fair amount of heart, sweat, and cheer. The Melvins may have dialed back some of their more willfully obscure tendencies, but when it connects with this kind of ferocity, the difference is purely academic.
Bounced: The guy who slam-danced everyone into a serious bummer getting dragged out of the crowd by Slim's staff elicits the second biggest cheers of the night.
First biggest cheers: Trevor Dunn laying on the ground, contrabass on
his chest, not missing a note.