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The Melvins @ Turner Hall Ballroom

May 1, 2012

May. 2, 2012
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In attempt to describe Nirvana's sound, Kurt Cobain once remarked, "All in all we sound like The Knack and the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath." The first half of that equation speaks to Cobain's unapologetic love of good radio pop, and the second aptly describes one of his biggest influences, The Melvins. Hailing from Aberdeen, Wash., just like Nirvana, they epitomized the hypothetical union of Black Flag and Black Sabbath, synthesizing stoner-friendly heavy metal and frenetic hardcore punk into one sludgy, over-powering onslaught. Acknowledging their influence, The Melvins were one of many bands Cobain used his fame to campaign for, often plugging them in interviews and onstage. Though they remained decidedly non-commercial, the band benefited greatly from the publicity, and even briefly signed to a major label, Atlantic (where Cobain helped produce their 1993 album Houdini), before deciding they were better off back underground.

Taking the Turner Hall Ballroom stage as the theme from Blazing Saddles blared over the PA, they gave off the impression that the large crowd of serious-looking metal heads and indie-types might just as well not be there at all. It's not that they seemed rude or stuck up, just uncommunicative; there were no introductions, no chit-chat or banter, just a headlong dash into grinding cacophony. In addition to longtime members Buzz Osborne (aka King Buzzo), the frizzy haired singer/guitarist, and drummer Dale Crover, the current touring group also features bassist Jared Warren and a second drummer, Coady Willis, both of whom are worthy additions, fitting in well to a band that's undergone plenty of personnel changes over the years. As long as we're on the subject, it's worth pointing out that this configuration is different than the "Melvins Lite" lineup heard on this year's new Freak Puke, which was recorded as a trio along with bassist Trevor Dunn.

Throughout the night they transitioned seamlessly from punishing metal to psychedelic freak-outs to anthemic punk and back again, a mix that was impressively versatile given the sense of heaviness and doom that pervaded every moment. A lot of that came from how Osborne and Warren handle their instruments, wringing a tidal wave of noise from just guitar or bass and a bank of effects pedals. It was only during the drum solos (or what you would call drum solos if there weren't two people playing), when the guitars fell silent that, by contrast, you realized just how room-filling, how thickly omnipresent – and yes, just how loud - their parts really were. After 90 minutes, the musicians began to filter off stage, and the set gradually ground to a halt amid a squall of feedback and reverb, diminishing by layers until all you were left with was the ringing in your ears. It was an impressive display of force, especially for a band that's going on 30 years old, providing at least some indication of what Kurt Cobain found so inspiring about them, and why he wanted to share their music with the world. 

Photo by Erik Ljung



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