Thirty years is a long time to keep anything going. It's longer than most marriages, most businesses and certainly than most experimental classic-rock sludge-punk bands are able to last. This hasn't stopped the Melvins from recording and touring since six years before The Simpsons were even on the air. In celebration of this monumental anniversary, the Melvins embarked on a 38-show tour of the U.S. that brought the band to the Firebird on Tuesday night.
With previous performances at Mississippi Nights, Club 367, Pop's, the American Theatre and even the Kiel Center with Nine Inch Nails back in 1995, the members of the Melvins are no strangers to St. Louis: They even played the Firebird as recently as May of last year. So was the band offering anything special on this particular tour to mark its 30-year anniversary?
After a looped and warped intro of the cough from the beginning of Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," the band opened with all guns blazing with the song "Hag Me" from 1993's Houdini album, a common fan favorite. This is a band that always seems to do whatever it feels like live, incorporating drum jams and noise sections, and sometimes neglecting most of its back catalog in the setlist. Was this about to be the set full of classic songs that most fans have been hoping for?
"The War on Wisdom" from last year's The Bulls and the Bees EP was played next and answered that question with a quick "probably not." That said, the song was still a ripper and sounded great for the first five minutes, after which drummer Dale Crover suddenly stopped the show and ran to the mic at the front of the stage, pointing and yelling because someone had thrown beer toward the band. Though clearly not a cool thing for an audience member to do, Crover came off less like the cool guy who also played drums in Shrinebuilder, Fantomas and, oh yeah, Nirvana, and more like a crotchety old man yelling at kids for walking on his lawn. He threatened that the band would leave the stage if it happened again and returned to his seat.
Guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne paused for a moment then enthusiastically asked, "So how you guys doing tonight?" with perfect comic timing, and a big laugh broke the tension. The band then started the song nearly just completed over again, so we all got to hear it twice, which felt a little odd, but hey, this is the Melvins. Odd is the band's last and middle name.
Luckily there were no more idiots throwing beer, and the rest of the show continued as planned. Having seen the band several times in the past, I can honestly say it has never sounded better. For those not familiar, the Melvins has had two drummers for around seven years now. I initially didn't see the purpose behind it -- Dale Crover is one of the best drummers in rock music; why would he possibly need someone playing along with him? Previously, the dual drumming seemed somewhat unnecessary. Both guys are playing the same parts and the anticipation that one of them might make a mistake or get thrown off beat from the other is a little distracting.
But in these last seven years, Crover and Coady Willis (also of Big Business and Murder City Devils fame) have locked in, playing together so incredibly tightly that it has created a truly thunderous and unique live sound. The drums sounded like cannons, full of punch and attack like a marching band heading to the battlefield, with the cranked Emperor cabinets onstage pushing thick guitar and bass tones (provided by ex-Butthole Surfers bassist Jeff Pinkus) that filled out the huge sound. I have rarely heard a band sound this good live. Loud, heavy and distorted, but crystal-clear with the vocals cutting perfectly at the front of the mix.
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