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Friday, 26 July 2013 09:53

Concert review: The Melvins (with Honky) bring the sludge to the Firebird, Tuesday, July 23

Concert review: The Melvins (with Honky) bring the sludge to the Firebird, Tuesday, July 23
Written by Matt Champion
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"Thirty years of sludge" may sound like the villain of a cleaning product infomercial, but it is actually a testament to just how long the Melvins have been making music.

The night began with the members of Honky taking the Firebird stage while grinning from ear to ear. Honky is an Austin, Texas-based Superboogie trio consisting of Butthole Surfer JD Pinkus on bass and vocals, Blowfly alum Bobby Ed Landgraf on guitars with Dale Crover of the Melvins behind the kit tonight instead of their usual drummer Michael Brueggen.

About ten seconds into the first song, it was obvious that we were in for one hell of a treat. Besides looking like Ted Nugent's wilder cousin, Landgraf is one of those guitarists that makes playing complicated and technically challenging runs look effortless. He spent the entire set making me think that he is some kind of guitar version of the Highlander that absorbed the powers of The Nuge, Billy Gibbons, and Randy Rhoads. Crover was his usual self behind the kit, flailing around slightly more restrained than Steve Moore. Pinkus just displayed the skill that makes him one of the best bassists on the planet. He drove the groove with enough force to let us know he was in charge without overshadowing or stepping all over the rest of the band.

Honky looked like a trailer-park version of ZZ Top and sounded like the bastard offspring of the Minutemen and Molly Hatchet. It seemed like there was a lot of Minutemen influence in their songs, which are relatively short, to the point, and leave you very satisfied. Landgraf spent the time between songs conversing with the audience and coming across as the friendliest guy you'd ever meet. I'm not a beer drinker, but I'll be damned if I didn't find myself wanting to grab a couple of brews and sit down to discuss Waylon Jennings and Scott Ian after the set. The show ended with Crover faking out the audience by playing the drum intro to Grand Funk's "We're an American Band" before his drumming cohort in the Melvins, Coady Willis, came out to play a song along with the rest of the guys. All in all, it was a fun and entertaining set and that 45 minutes seemed to go by way too fast.

After a short break, the members of the Melvins got up and started ripping into their set. Led by vocalist/guitarist Buzz Osbourne, the Melvins consist of dual drumming corps of Coady Willis and Dale Crover along with JD Pinkus, who is filling in for Jared Warren who is out on paternity leave. The Melvins are one of those extremely rare bands that sounds almost exactly the same live as they do on their albums but doesn't sound over-rehearsed or bored while doing it. Every abrupt stop, tempo change, and out from the middle of nowhere riff was as glorious as Osbourne's graying mane. I also don't know how they managed to do it, but their gear was deathly silent when they weren't playing. There was no hiss, crackle, or buzz coming out of the PA when they weren't playing. Oddly enough, when they were playing Buzz was coming through the PA quite nicely.

I hadn't seen the Melvins before, nor was I really familiar with their work before the show. They are one of those bands that I knew by name, but couldn't tell you what they sounded like or name any of their albums or songs. After seeing the show, I know exactly why people speak of them the way they do.

Osbourne's vocals ranged between lamenting howls and accusatory commentary, spit from between teeth clenched with angst. His guitar tone was intense, filling the room knee-deep in sludge. I think this was partly to his preference of playing Electrical Guitar Company all aluminum guitars and partly from his skill and dedication to the instrument. The latter shows with the fact that King Buzzo tunes his guitar more than any other artist I've seen on stage.

The twin drumming combo of Willis and Crover is definitely a sight to behold. It's obvious that these two have put a lot of time into perfecting their tandem playing, even going as far as playing a Siamese twin kit comprised of two sets fused together, sharing several large toms between them. Willis is left-handed and Crover is a righty, which makes for an interesting, mirror image visual during the performance. The two literally did not stop drumming for the entire set, filling the spaces between songs with drum line precision solos while Osbourne tuned up or mopped the sweat off his brow. Well, they did stop once, but I'll get back to that later.

As with Honky, Pinkus was the consummate bassist while performing this set. He set a rock solid foundation with the low end and threw in enough variation to prove that he wasn't playing an AC/DC show. His tone is also impressive, again partly due to the aluminum guitar but mostly due to skill. His backing vocals were just as on point as Osbourne's, adding a great balance to the leads.

The band put on a top-level performance from the beginning to the end, which saw Osbourne and Pinkus leave the stage while Willis and Crover played on for about five minutes of drumming. They slowly decreased in speed as time went on and ended with both of them standing on their thrones and dropping their sticks on their cymbals for one last crash before hopping down and walking off stage. The set was about an hour and a half or so, but as it was with Honky it was so good that it seemed too short.

About the stop in the action that I previously mentioned: About halfway through the second song, some idiot threw a beer at the band. This resulted in an abrupt stop in the action, followed by Dale Crover leaping up from behind his kit and heading to the front of the stage to let everyone know what he thought of it. "The next time beer gets thrown on us, we're stopping the show!" was his statement, followed by comments from the rest of the band admonishing the beer thrower and questioning what kind of idiot wastes a perfectly good beer like that.

I've noticed that over the last year or so, incidents like this have been getting more and more prevalent at shows that I've been to. D.R.I. had to stop and break up a fight in the crowd during their show at the Firebird and Ben Sollee had to put up with idiots yelling at him to play "Free Bird" during his set at the Old Rock House last February. Astronautilus had some pinhead wing a glass bottle at him last October. The venue staff had to eject a "fan" from the Unknown Hinson show for grabbing things off the stage in June of 2012. Not to mention the numerous equipment and merch thefts, ranging from national touring acts like Old Crow Medicine Show, Jeff Loomis Band and Carbon Leaf to local acts like Red Squad.

I understand that things happen and people do stupid things, but what I don't understand is that people pay good money to go and see a band that they claim to love, then do stupid shit to offend, harass, or otherwise show disrespect to them. This kind of behavior may lead bands to skip St. Louis when they tour through the area. Even a band that is just starting out deserves to play a set without being doused with alcohol or be harassed by the fans, much less a group that's been delivering quality music for thirty years. So please, stop and think before you launch that beer or yell ignorant shit at the band you just paid good money to see. It's easier to make a band want to come back to play in town again than it is to convince one to come back after a bad experience.

The most prominent thing I noticed during the show is that I found myself thinking, "Hey, these guys sound like so-and-so!" only to realize that no, so-and-so sounds like the Melvins. Hearing the originators of the sound that has influenced many bands that I love reinforced that I should really stop putting off listening to bands that I know I should add to the daily playlist. I can only lament in the fact that my next several paychecks are going to be gone in my effort to catch up on 30 years of awesome that I let slip past.

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