Melvins at Turner Hall
- MONDO LUCHA! celebrates fifth anniversary in high-flying style at Turner Hall
- David Sedaris goes off book, shines at Pabst Theater
- Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck offer glimpses of greatness at Riverside Theater
- John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman give Pabst Theater three shows for price of one
- Top 5 musical moments from Kenosha’s 2013 Ride of the Living Dead
The Melvins have a history of reinvention, and that’s not taking into account the Spinal Tap-like parade of bassists; King Buzzo (guitar, vocals) and Dale Crover (drums, vocals) have exhibited a Sting-worthy proclivity for reimagining and re-recording their old tracks in new and interesting ways. Yet they’ve always remained true to a basic formula: A rhythmically challenging blend of chug-heavy riff-rock that straddles punk and metal without being either one. Tuesday night’s set at Turner Hall Ballroom mostly showcased songs from the band’s career as a four-piece (since 2006), with Big Business founders Coady Willis (on a second drum kit) and Jared Warren (bass, vocals). The group laid out a convincing argument for the vitality of these Melvins, even if there was little evidence of what made the Melvins one of the most influential bands of the past three decades.
Old fans have undoubtedly been wondering why a distinctive powerhouse like Crover would demand augmentation, but the interplay between him and Willis was by far the most impressive aspect of the show. Even after seven years of collaboration, there’s still the impression of a mentorship between the two, but the music they make together elevates otherwise unremarkable newer material to frequent excellence. Particularly during transitions between songs, it was endlessly engrossing to listen to the two bounce beats off each other.
The other remarkable aspect of the new-ish Melvins approach is the four-man singing attack, which got a bit lost in the cavernous confines of Turner Hall. The vocal harmonies are more interesting and impressive than ever on the band’s new The Bulls & The Bees EP, and Warren is the perfect counterpoint to Buzzo’s gravelly baritone (almost to the point of mimicry), but they didn’t factor heavily into this performance. The militaristic chanting of “The Water Glass” was phenomenally entertaining, but for the most part, this show was, appropriately, all about the drums; Crover and Willis even subbed in during the opening set by Unsane, whose drummer has been sidelined with a hip injury.
For his part, Buzzo gave a physically energetic performance without exactly throwing many bones to longtime fans; his manic head-banging drove home the realization that the new Melvins are essentially an oddly sped-up version of the old. The Lysol portion of the show was rushed, with the desolate ambient drone of the original filled with feedback and percussive busywork, and the only other oldie was a rote “The Bit” that preceded the brief, show-ending noise jam.
It was clear from beginning to end that all four musicians were having a blast onstage, and this was perhaps true for the largely motionless crowd as well (aside from the gradually increasing trickle of Gen-Xers resignedly hoisting leather jackets and flannels and slinking out). After 30 years together, a band has to mutate to survive. To the Melvins’ credit, at least in terms of impact, they are completely different from the band that existed in the ’90s. That band was cryptic, menacing fun; this band is simply fun. Maybe that’s the punk-rock ideal of aging gracefully.