TVD Live: The Melvins at the 9:30 Club, 8/3

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND  Don’t ask me why, but The Melvins always remind me of something that happened to my friend Dan Baker back in high school. To wit, Baker was leaving school one day when out of the bushes leapt Monk Crabbs, right onto Baker’s back. Monk was a Littlestown legend, a short, simian creature of low IQ who talked funny and would certainly have been bully bait had he not possessed the strength of a berserk gorilla.

So there was Monk, on my friend Dan’s back, and what does he do but reach around, grab Dan by the balls, squeeze really hard, and say, “Ba-ker. Take me home.” Home was well over a mile away, at the end of a long steep climb up Cemetery Street, but poor Dan had no choice. Every time he slowed down, Monk gave his testicles the old squeeze-ola. Faced with the alternatives of sterility or excruciating pain Dan chose the latter, and carried Monk past the feed mill and the foundry and all the way up Cemetery Street, at which point Monk jumped off his back and said, “Ba-ker. Me want Marlboro.” Needless to say, Dan was never quite the same after that.

Now, I’m not comparing The Melvins to Monk Crabbs, per se. Okay, so I am comparing The Melvins to Monk Crabbs. Like Monk, their music will jump on your back, give your goolies a squeeze, and make you carry it home. But unlike my friend Dan, you will inexplicably enjoy the experience. In a masochistic way. Because The Melvins make loud (and early on very Black Sabbath-influenced) music that is simultaneously nasty, abusive, and wonderful, not to mention impossibly varied.

Over the course of their 30-year career The Melvins have played droning stoner rock, blues, fast dynamite blasts of hardcore, experimental noise, big rawk anthems, funk, kuntry standards, electronica, show tunes, free jazz, and songs of pure No Trend weirdness, not to mention covers by everybody from Ram Jam (you heard right) to The Fugs. And just to prove they can debase themselves like the next guy, they’ve also recorded a pair of albums with that jiggly bowl of well-intentioned bullshit, Jello Biafra. For all I know there may even be an album of calypso tunes, or Don Ho covers, in their catalogue. Why, they even have an off-shoot band, Melvins Lite, which I’m afraid to listen to because for all I know their songs contain olestra (like the infamous “lite” potato chips) and will give me the squirts.

In addition to being the Kings of Variety, The Melvins–whose current lineup includes Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne on vocals, Dale Crover on drums and guitar, Coady Willis on drums, and Jeff Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers, who is filling in for new papa Jared Warren, on bass–are prolific too; since 1986 they’ve released well over 430 LPs (give or take 420 albums), not counting extended plays and compilations. That’s a shitload of albums, and only true aficionados can claim to have listened to them all. I know I haven’t, and I know I never will. But they’re out there, I’m sure–fanatical and weird people you simply have to admire for their dedication (it can’t be easy smuggling that many LPs into a mental institution). For all I know, Monk Crabbs is one of them.

I love The Melvins, even if they do remind me of that pair of dental drills, the grinder and the screamer. Some Melvins songs are slow, brutal slogs, like the grinder, that rattle your brainpan, while others come at you at whirring at high velocity, like the dreaded screamer. Me, I like both types, so long as I’ve gotten enough Novocaine, just like the Queen of England does, even if we’re partial to different albums. She’s a big fan of Nude With Boots and Crybaby (she swears The Melvins’ take on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is better than Nirvana’s) while I prefer Gluey Porch Treatments and Houdini. A few of our arguments over our faves have gotten heated; she threw her crown at me once for calling “The Savage Hippy” a Cows’ ripoff, but only ended up putting a gash in a grim portrait of Robert the Glowering of Arsendich. Me, I love so many of their songs it’s hard to know where to start, but just to pick a few at random there’s the fast-paced “A History of Drunks,” the razor-edged “The Stupid Creep,” the heavy as a soaking wet Mr. Ed “The Talking Horse,” the hardcore “I’m Dry,” the slower-than-an-old-school-zombie “At the Stake,” the furious-paced (and strangely accessible) “Youth of America,” the pounding and feedback-laden “Little Judas Chongo,” the cacophonous “Magic Pig Detective,” the stoner rock of “Cow,” the crushing “Hurter,” the funky, beat-box-driven “Let It All Be,” and the long, lugubrious, and dread-inducing “The Man With the Laughing Hand Is Dead,” with Bliss Blood on vocals.

The great thing about The Melvins is they have something for everyone; looking for a cool cover of Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”? They got it. Or a song that isn’t a song but just idle chatter during a band rehearsal? They got it. Or a song that sounds like a duet between bass and typewriter? They got it. Or a cover of “My Generation” that goes exactly one mile per hour? They got it. Or a song that could be by Nirvana? They got it. Or a hilarious talking non-blues about a guy who mistakes lint on the head of his penis for venereal disease? They got it. Or a really long song in which Osbourne speed-recites James Joyce’s impenetrable Finnegan’s Wake to the accompaniment of 100 people masturbating? (Okay, they don’t have that one.) Or a song that alternates between “found” muzak and a whining child? They got it. Or a song called “Civilized Worm” in which the drummer should be charged with assault and battery? They got it. Or a song that sounds EXACTLY like a very big dinosaur sinking slowing into an oozing tar pit? They got it. (Actually, they’ve got reams of those.) Or a 24-second song that has a symbol for a title? They got it. They’ve got it all, with the possible exception of a single pretty ballad, although come to think of it there is their cover of Queen’s “Best Friend,” which may just be the friendliest song you’ll ever hear by these jovial pranksters and noizemongers.

As for their latest, Everybody Loves Sausages, it’s a covers album and it’s great, as any album is bound to be that includes takes on the great Pop-O-Pies’ “Timothy Leary Lives,” David Bowie’s magnificent “Station to Station,” Divine’s hilarious “Female Trouble” (“They say I’m a skank/But I don’t care/Go ahead put me in your electric chair”), The Scientists’ too cool “Set It On Fire,” Tales of Terror’s morbid “Romance,” and the beautiful–wow, that makes two pretty songs, even if this one is morbid as fuck–“Carpe Diem” by the Fugs, not to mention tunes by Roxy Music, the aforementioned Ram Jam and The Jam, etc. It also features vocal cameos by the likes of Mark Arm (Mudhoney), Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Caleb Benjamin (?), Clem Burke (Blondie), J.G. Thirlwell (Foetus), Kevin Rutmanis (Cows, Melvins), and Tom Hazelmeyer (Halo of Flies and Amphetamine Reptile head honcho) and I love it to death, which is good because the Fugs say “Death is coming,” so I might as well get an early start and beat the heavy traffic during rush hour. Anyway, I recommend you purchase it, if only for “Station to Station,” because it’s amazing and does The Thin White Duke, Bowie’s nastiest but nattiest persona, proud.

But to get to the business at hand, I was as excited as Charlie Sheen on a coke jag to see The Melvins do whatever the fuck they felt like doing at the 9:30 Club on Saturday, August 3, especially as it’s their 30th Anniversary Tour and they’re visiting 51 states in 51 days (they count Bolivia as a state) to set some kind of rock’n’roll land speed record. Unfortunately I missed opening act Honky due to a piece of infelicitous timing–I stopped at a 7-11 for a pack of smokes at the exact moment the hot dog grill burst into flames, and in a mad rush for the door I knocked over an entire shelf of Ding-Dongs, fell flat on my face, badly chipped a tooth, and had to make an emergency stop at a sleazy-looking all-night dental clinic/strip club where a beautiful woman with tremendously enhanced breasts in a tiny red white and blue bikini top and a spangled thong (I’m reasonably certain she wasn’t a real dentist; she wasn’t wearing a mask or disposable gloves, and she smoked throughout the procedure) applied both grinder and screamer with impossible haste, obviously eager to return to pole dancing. It’s the only dental procedure I’ve ever undergone where the dentist asked if I wanted a happy ending. Anyway, I just managed to make it to the 9:30 to hear The Melvins begin their set.

And they were amazing. Amazing from Osborne’s hair, which looked Robert Smith after he stuck a finger into an electrical outlet to the dual drummers, who produced a barbaric and incredible din all night long. Yes, the floor shook. And Osborne played guitar solo after guitar solo, which seeing how I simply adore guitar solos made me as happy as a junky in a deserted pharmacy. I was disappointed they didn’t play any of the happening covers off “Everybody Loves Sausages,” and will let the band know that should I ever run into them, which I hope I don’t. They opened with “Hag Me,” a doom-laden slog through molten metal murk with power chord after power chord ringing in your ears and Osborne bellowing “I stole your gravity” and lots of cool “Hey Hey Hey!”‘s. “War on Wisdom” was faster, boasted both Osborne and Pinkus, an amazing bassist, on vocals, and featured a long cacophony of an instrumental midsection with Osborne playing some far-freaking-out guitar to a Pearl Harbor-like drum barrage before the song came to a herky-jerky end. “We Are Doomed” (love that title) was stoner rock with the bong really packed, with Osborne and Crover singing, Osborne playing some cool riffs, and yet another long instrumental midsection during which Osborne played some really wild and wooly guitar.

“Sweet Willy Rollbar” began as a speedfest by Melvins’ standards, with the drummers opening followed by fierce feedback, only to slow down into a sludgy instrumental workout, with Osborne playing heaps of guitar, enough guitar even to satisfy me. “A Growing Disgust,” a mid-tempo Melvins Lite tune, was chock full of brutal power chords, chug-a-lug guitar, and several fantastic solos by Osborne. Meanwhile the rhythm section threatened to bring the ceiling down, and I had long since regretted not wearing earplugs. And a guy behind me was doing a spastic dance more appropriate for a Grateful Dead concert, and kept running into me and threatening to jam my pen into my left nostril. Made me wish I lived in that town Kevin Bacon moved to where dancing was illegal.

“Let It All Be” was a real pummeler, with lots of drum carnage and frantic guitar and yet another instrumental middle that featured heaps of feedback and went on and on, sending me into a trance of ecstasy before the guitars dropped out and the drums went on, raising a ruckus as my late old man would say. The Melvins followed that with the leviathan “Your Blessened,” with Osborne moaning the vocals while the tune moved liked molasses and the guitar and drums battered away. Then some cool feedback followed, accompanied by some odd time signatures by the drummers, and this went on and on, slow and menacing, before Osborne returned to vocals, growing more frantic by the moment. Then came a big power chord crescendo, and the drummers went wild with rolls and all, before the song died a sudden death and had to be buried 15 feet underground, to keep it from rising from the dead.

“Night Goat” opened with an ominous bass rumble and a great guitar riff, and was bluesier than anything else they played. It featured some great feedback guitar by Osborne, the usual deafening drum din, and some great screams by Osborne, but mostly it was big sheets of feedback and frequent shifts from slow to fast and back again, with a chiming guitar signaling the end. As for “Lizzy,” it opened slowly and quietly with drums that were then joined by a fantastic guitar riff, then picked up speed for a moment, slowed back down, then sped up to become probably the Melvins’ fastest song of the night–it was much faster and longer than the recorded version–with Osborne singing what sounded to me like “Heavy metal beach ball” (I doubt it heard it right, but then again I was almost deaf) with Crover joining in on vocals. Next up was “Billy Fish,” which opened with some martial drumming (watch it! the Prussian Army’s in town!) then took off. It was a very accessible tune by Melvins’ standards, and faster than usual too, with Osborne singing “Wake up! Come on!” at which the martial drums returned and were joined by cool guitar and more vocals before a big rawk guitar took over and the whole thing ended in some brief unison playing by guitar and drums. “The Water Glass” opened with Pinkus’ “1-2-1-2-3-4 here we go!” and raunched along at a good speed with Osborne and Pinkus on vocals, throwing out hoary clichés like “In the groove/In the mood” and “Rock me/Rock me/Rock steady” to the accompaniment of just the drummers. A truly strange tune, and pretty funny too.

The propulsive and wonderfully titled “Evil New War God” opened with some simple drumming before being joined by some detonating power chords and Osborne’s vocals, and was also amazingly accessible by Melvins’ standards. I loved Osborne’s bursts of feedback and chugging guitar riff, as well as his nasty and brutish power chords, but not so much the way the song slowed and the drummers took over and played some fancy Dan start-and-stop stuff. Showoffs. Fortunately this was followed by a long, brutal, take-no-prisoners of a jam, with the drummers smashing away and Osborne going crazy train on his guitar. “Lysol” began in a caterwaul and ended in a yowl, and in between the drums were at their most pounding and ponderous, Pinkus keened instead of sang, feedback sizzled like a downed electrical line, and Osborne played power chords bigger than God or the Beatles. The effect was somewhat droning, in a great way, and I enjoyed it the way you might a very art brut free jazz tune, that is to say you suffered but in an ecstatic, saint-undergoing-crucifixion kind of way.

Finally the band closed with “Graveyard,” a semi-dirge that featured some high-pitched guitar by Osborne, group singing, and momentous drumming that continued until Osborne left the stage and Pinkus (I think) set his bass down to play some feedback, leaving just the drummers to play and play, for forever it seemed. It was great for a while–Crover is a virtuoso, and Willis isn’t exactly small potatoes–and I’ve never been so completely drawn in by nothing but drums before. Unfortunately there is a limit to how long I can listen to just drums–John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” cured me of that forever–and after what seemed like 15 minutes or so I began to have bad flashbacks to the Grateful Dead’s interminable “drums and space,” causing me to suspect I’d time-traveled back to the Dylan and the Dead concert–one of the most shambolic shams I’ve even witnessed–in Philadelphia back in the Dark Ages. I finally found myself willing them to stop, and finally they did, only to triumphantly leap from their drum seats and summon applause and then more applause. Why, you’d have thought they’d just returned from Mars. It was a not-so-happy ending to a great show, but as George Armstrong Custer–who once spent a night in my home town of Littlestown, PA–learned the hard way, not every show has a happy ending, unless it involves my new dentist.

Whom I call my new dentist because my tooth seems fine, so maybe my bustilicious stripper is a real dentist after all. Or a dental savant, Horace Wells in a spangled thong. She certainly did a better job–thanks in part to her liberal employment of nitrous oxide–than my childhood dentist, Dr. Wickedhand. In any event, I’d recommend her to anyone, especially older children, who can learn about sex and get braces at the same time. Just ask for Divinity. She works the third pole from the door, and I’ll bet you she can hang upside down by her legs and do a root canal at the same time.

And then there’s Monk Crabbs. I wonder where he is now? I always suspected he was smarter than he acted, and for all I know he’s sitting at a sunny table in a snazzy Parisian cafe, sipping absinthe and trading bon mots with a beautiful existentialist in a chic black dress who puffs on Gitanes. But he’s probably in a heavy metal band, pounding the skins. He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I’ll bet you he uses baseball bats for sticks. Besides, you don’t need smarts to play the drums. It’s like the old drummer joke that goes, What do you call a drummer with half a brain? Gifted.

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  • MonkCrabbs

    Baker he fast.

  • Michael Little

    Monk! And here I was wondering where you were! Are you in a heavy metal band with a name that ends in a “z”? Or are you in Paris, seducing the daughters of famous existentialists? By the way, Baker says hello, and wants the $15,000 he spent in therapists’ fees over the years due to the trauma you caused him.

  • MonkCrabbs

    Me spent some time in the Merchant Marines, then bumming around NY, Denver and Frisco. Write books. Me mostly shit-faced at the Gettysburg Legion now. Baker funny.You have Marlboro?

  • Michael Little

    I should have known you’d become the famous Beat writer Jack Kerouac. Your high school novel “Me On Road Now” showed a real command of spontaneous bop prosody. And I envy you your being constantly shit-faced at the Gettysburg Legion. I’m sober, and it hurts.


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