The MELVINS at the Ready Room in Saint Louis, Missouri on May 24th of 2018.
With the welcome addition of Jeff Pinkus from the Butthole Surfers, the honorific Melvins brought their heavy tonal onslaught to the nicely lit and trendy area of Saint Louis called The Grove. The venue played being The Ready Room, which is an apt name given the enthusiasm of the audience on that lovely rock and roll evening. I for one, was stoked to see one of the best bands around, let alone one of the best bands still around. We are talking about the essentially endless touring since 1984 kind of still around.
But before that welcome continuation of stoner doomed majesty in the quite metal city of St. Louis, we were all pleasantly surprised to find that the opening band All Souls was demonstrably worthy of the weight that comes with opening for the Melvins. While knowing nothing of the band aside from a friend saying, “They’re good”, their material was easy to latch onto. Driving the force, certainly, was the drummer. A thunderous style that commanded allusion to The Queens of Stone Age’s Jon Theodore and in my mind some shades of one of the Mars Volta’s short-lived drummers Dave Elitch. Jon was also in that band that too, to be clear. Comparisons aside, All Souls knew what they were doing and had their layers down nicely. Two guitarists on either side of the stage made a lush stereo mix that was a joy to experience. I was often closing my eyes to really take in the bands sound as if I were diving into their music at home with headphones. When I was paying attention to the members on stage, it seemed the bassist and one of the guitarists traded vocal duties; and seamlessly at that. The singing blended with dirty guitar chords and solid riffs; kind of post-rock, kind of just rock and roll. The harmonies of the melodic elements in the band were on-point; rich and beautiful, there was an underpinning of lush sound. And at almost all times the drummer was still firmly urging the band forward. Talk about delivery; this band was well-received and they felt the love.
But we came for the big boys. We want those damn Melvins. And as someone who has fortunately witnessed multiple iterations of the grunge leaders: The new lineup is delicious and nutritious. The Pinkus Abortion Technician. That’s the name of the new album and this tour. And if this show was in fact a Pinkus abortion, it was indeed very technical. Jeff and Steven and their respective basses came on stage first, and immediately they felt the love of the crowd too. We adore the Melvins. it’s true. Every line-up of the band brings fresh changes and songs; always clever, always fun. Their aim is straight and true, save for the beloved curve-balls they fever pitch. By the time King Buzzo and Dale came on stage, the dual bassists were churning up an already tremendous sound. The King weirdo himself went beeline for his weapon of choice; head-down, a quick shuffle to the guitar tech who had an awaiting metal axe in his raised hands. The guitars Buzzo plays from The Electrical Guitar Company are entirely made of aluminum, or sometimes just the neck is aluminum and the body is a solid but transparent acrylic. Pinkus’ bass is made by the same luthiers. And actually, both Buzzo and Pinkus have signature series instruments with said company.
Ripping through riffs with a new level of unrelenting force, the double bass attack somehow made the Melvins sound even better than normal. It almost seems dumb but by simply having another bass player it really did just make all the chugs and –oomph– that much bigger and fatter. From a recording aspect, you typically aren’t going to have left and right panned stereo basses in a song, but in this live setting, it truly sounded perfect for this band. Whether you wanted to describe them as the true grunge vanguards who arguably started the genre with their distinctively heavy and menacing waves and odd but fitting vocalizations, or simply a pontificated amalgamation of a stoner-doom-prog-experimental-hostile-ambient-takeover… it doesn’t really matter. They rock.
As with all Melvins sets it can be confusing knowing what song they are playing at any given moment unless you are an expert-level fan. While a huge fan, I am no expert, and I also recall having drank many a few beers. “Stop Moving To Florida“ is a new song and a standout in the set. The slurring middle section really stood out in the best way. Hilarious yet killer. What more could you ask for? STOP!!! Wait, there’s more! It’s actually a tongue-in-cheek cover of James Gang’s “Stop“ and the Butthole Surfers tune called “Moving to Florida“ all combined together. This is cute and occurs with an actual ironic shouting of, “stop!” by Jeff Pinkus who then stomps around the stage alerting the other members to stop. Jeff has his usual lengthy beard goatee-thing and baseball hat on. Buzzo then proceeds to get proper weird ala Gibby Haynes. Beyond the stellar music quality, these kind of antics are why the Melvins have garnered such legend-status over their long and gluey porch treatment of a career. Of course, most fans should know the Melvins have been playing Moving to Florida for at least awhile now. Pinkus has been on and off with the Melvins for a bit as well. But they tend to play covers that you wouldn’t expect, which has added a unique marbling to their sets. Last year they played a Beatles song or two. It was as cool as you would think, and then more. This time they also played some Red Kross, David Bowie, and the Stones. But they still sounded undeniably Melvins.
When the intro of The Bit started the squeals of excitement in the audience were palpable and cheering ensued by those who knew what was coming and wanted to tell the others. It’s just one of those songs that is a fan favorite. Eastern-sounding droning guitar chords and then the surging band thunder strikes. And lo, the King spoke to his loyal subjects:
“This is for cows
It’s not for the size of me
Into my mouth
Nine-hundred and fourteen.“
Dale Crover was a bit hard to see behind the drums this time around the Midwest, but his presence is always known. Very known. Dale is the Melvins just as much as Buzzo is. His rhythmic sensibility and calculated fury are the foundation of the quakes that the band conjures. He beats the shit out of the drums and his grooves are rock-steady. Dale is a destroyer. I’ve seen the Melvins with two drummers, a few times, and as cool as that is: There’s really no need; Dale can handle everything. Per the usual, King Buzzo had a lovely and thick turtleneck on that is fitting of a majestic wizard such as himself. I always think he looks like a high-level crazy cat lady who is dressed to impress for Dungeons and Dragons convention but missed her train. His big grey pseudo-fro warbling back and forth as his guitar snarls. Sweating. Guttural buckets of words he yells out. Baritone, but sometimes whining and puttering in that evil way he does. It’s so very Buzzo. Gyrating nearby, Steven McDonald had what I would describe as a very pimpin’ suit on adorned with fabulous pattern. He lurched and leaned and leered around his side of the stage as usual. I have nicknamed him creepazoid. The man-creature crab-walking along, he has this menacing grin that is both unsettling and one of the funniest things I have ever seen in a show. I never get sick of it. He’s like a demonic spawn of KISS. It’s wonderful. Later we saw that underneath his stylish blazer jacket he was wearing a BIRTHDAY GIRL T-Shirt. The pink letters signified that it was indeed his birthday on that special evening and Buzzo reiterated that fact. He turned 51. How fitting to celebrate the gift of existence with an ungodly heavy band transcending its usual mega-lows with even more bass than you would think is possible, let alone doable. With so much bottom-end there was also a surprising clarity; somehow the sound was crisp and about as good as you can ever get with a balls-to-the-wall band like the Melvins. It was great.
These guys are true road warriors and we are all lucky to have an act like them making music, let alone touring eternally. Not to mention the exposure they gave to the opener All Souls, who I think certainly deserve it. The show didn’t sell out, but it sold well and the crowd felt full and definitely packed with energy. Many familiar faces from around the city were there. It’s a show you wouldn’t want to miss. Saint Louis loves good metal and it loves the Melvins. I know we all hope they come back soon. –Thomas Alexander Madrafino-Ruzicka