The Melvins at the Firebird, 5/3/12: Review, Photos, Setlist
The Melvins w/ Unsane
May 3, 2012
The Melvins beckons a special brand of music worship. The band pushes otherwise psychedelic sounds through sludgy down-trodden songs that confuse rock with metal. This April 2012 tour kicks off a prolific year for the group, and promotes their new EP, The Bulls and The Bees, produced by SCION. The Firebird was damp with sweat and beer on Thursday night, an apt after effect of Unsane and The Melvins.
This show was sold out, thus the parking lot was messy with last minute hopefuls and those trying to noodle their way in. The Firebird was cramped and musty, leaving little air for breathing. Unsane tore into their opening slot at 9 PM. The New York noise rockers ripped through a mixed set of old and new, and the Melvins' Cody Willis and Dale Crover combined efforts to fill in for Unsane's absent drummer.
The songs worked at a freight train pace, ever enhanced by creeping melodies and heavyweight breakdowns. In mid set, I looked to the crowd to see a tall PBR can next to a set of rock horns. The reception was warm for Unsane and its fist pumping style of sludge rock. The set felt a bit schizophrenic, as Unsane merged droned out pieces with songs of almost radio friendly alt-metal. Guitarist and vocalist Chris Spencer brought out harmonica for a wild intro that blended ambient melody with murky rhythm.
As each Melvins drummer shared duties throughout the songs, both donned the stage to finish Unsane's set with fierce double drumming. After a quick interlude and a tongue-in-cheek stage entrance, The Melvins hit the humid Firebird with an impressive range of pieces, tightly wound by the lumbering tones of bassist Jared Warren and guitarist Buzz Osborne.
The percussive element of the Melvins is striking, as the dual drumming provides a polyrhythmic element that feels complex and overwhelming. Osborne is kinetic at all times, even while channeling his esoteric howl and flailing his head of wizardly hair around. Warren dug up a guttural style of yelling, bringing a welcome range to the vocal styling. Both drummers donned headsets to provide ample back-up and group yelling. Crowd participation was heavy on the tail end of The Water Glass, a piece reliant on lyrical play and vocal complexity.
The Melvins merged songs and startling transitions with few breaks in its mess of sludge-punk. The ends of each song were marked by the piercing whistles and fervent screaming of the fan base. The set list was varied and offered strong points in the band's tenure, but the Melvins hit their stride this evening with Youth of America, their lumbering remake of a classic Wipers jam.
The Firebird was humid and packed, with little room to push or shove. The space was uncomfortable but oddly fitting, as the constipated room disabled any chance of moshing, and limited crowd movement to fierce head-banging: A choreographed wave of buzz cuts and messy hair. The Firebird's house system did much to augment the Melvins' intensity, producing a dense sound from anywhere in the venue. The best spot was, and usually is, located by the sound board. Osborne's guitar cut through clearly while the punchy kick of the bass guitar blended well with the booming drum sets.
Drum solos were peppered throughout the set, never meandering and always displaying a rich convergence of percussion styles. The Melvins closed with The Bit, a piece that builds tension musically while applying a call and response style of word play between band mates. The climax was noisy, unhinged and appropriate; Fitting for a exhausting night of influential genre-splicing, courtesy of The Melvins.
Personal Bias: I've been a transient listener of the Melvins at best. As a fan of many bands influenced by the seminal group, it's shocking to realize how often this band is ripped off in contemporary music, both mainstream and underground. Respect.
Seen at the show: Four or five hundred white people, or whatever the Firebird's capacity is. 99% white, 1% everyone else. There were many buzz-cuts and neatly trimmed beards. I noticed the occasional couple doing a little bumpin' and grindin' throughout the set, which is either totally bizarre or oddly fitting for Melvins' dark and driving songs.
Evil New War God
History of Bad Men
Youth of America (Wipers cover)
A Growing Disgust
War On Wisdom
We Are Doomed
Friends Before Larry
A Really Long Wait