I don’t get a lot of gig-envy these days, I see enough things. You can’t see everything and you really wouldn’t want to – I wish I could un-see a lot of the frogs I’ve sat through all in the hope to hear Kiss by Prince. (And then when Prince did play somewhere near my house – Australia – I was in America. But again, no real gig-envy there, I got to see The Roots in San Francisco at the same time/instead and that was hard to beat).
People often ask me if I’m going to a particular show – travelling-like. Am I going to Auckland for this? Am I skipping over to Aussie for that? And the answer, pretty much always, is no. It’s no because I can’t afford it. It’s no because I can’t organise the time. It’s no because I’m not able to get there. It’s no because I have a mini-me to deal with. In a perfect world I’d go to even more gigs – but as I say I get to see enough. And sometimes I see far more than enough.
But I tell ya if I could have gone to Auckland to see the Melvins recently I would. Fuck I love the Melvins!
I’ve seen ‘em. Three times. Different line-ups. Not only that but a different set-list entirely, a different feel, a few different flavours – but always (some version of) the same intensity.
I first started listening to the Melvins at high school, probably because of Nirvana-worship, the Cobain connection, grunge, antecedents, reading music magazines. Sharing tapes with people. The usual way you found new bands. The Meat Puppets were good. The Melvins were just something else. Something self-contained – oblivious to trends and fashion and flavour-of-the-month bullshit. And as time goes on – the band now celebrating 30 years of existence – that seems to mean more and more.
Saw them for the first time at the ill-fated Sweetwaters and they were astonishingly good. The one thing that stood out – because it was messy, murky – was their cover of The Green Manalishi by the original (blues band) Fleetwood Mac. Good lord I love that song anyway, but the sinister edge that was added by the Melvins just took it somewhere else entirely. The crowd turned on them during that performance, there were boos, some chants even telling them to get off and that made the band just want to play more. Petulant fuckers. Gotta love ‘em for that.
The Melvins are more punk than any punk band you’ll hear. They’re more metal than most too.
Their new album Tres Cabrones – one of at least three this year! – is another kick-ass slab of part-silliness/part sheer revelry-in-the-riff sludge-infused rock. And fuck they sound urgent. They (almost) always sound urgent.
But I can’t be too concerned about missing them this latest time – of course I’m gutted they didn’t come to my town. But I’ve seen them twice in Wellington already and most recently it was the four-piece/two-drummers version of the Melvins – incorporating another whole band (Big Business) within their sound. That was a shit-hot gig too, day or two after the Christchurch quake, the Melvins caught at the airport as the earth started moving. They turned up to a rescheduled gig and just blew the stage apart. The songs spat from the hair of King Buzzo, flung at the fans. Take that! Take that! And take fucking that! And we did. And we loved it. Another happening. Another blistering set. Another gig that no one else could have done – not in that way, not with that energy.
Every time I’ve seen the Melvins was great. Every time was different. But I tell you the best time I saw them – the biggest statement – was when they opened for Tool back in 2002.
Tool was a really big deal then, the albums Aenima and Lateralus were everywhere, a big deal in New Zealand. I couldn’t give a fuck about Tool nowadays but I saw a great gig from them there and back in the day I liked those first few albums. It was good don’t-give-a-shit-beer-drinking-music. I still like drinking beer and having beer-drinking-music but I also give-a-shit these days. So Melvins is a better fit than Tool. I’ve never felt let down by the Melvins. I don’t think they’d ever do that to me.
So I’m along to this Tool gig as a reviewer, it’s a job. I’m interested in seeing Tool of course – for the show. I like their sound enough, I’m curious about the stage act and there’s naked contortionists and the lead singer is pretty much in a cage (to stop the tossed bottles getting in, but it’ll never stop his pretentiousness from seeping out). And so they’re good. Sure. Good on the night.
But the revelation – to me anyway – was seeing the Melvins open the show. It was like no one told them they were opening, as far as King Buzzo was concerned they were co-headliners. In fact blow that, they were the main attraction – some band just happened to be on after…
Or maybe, actually, someone – some very brave soul – did stare into those dark eyes and tell that giant mop of hair that he was jerkin’ the curtain.
Because something set him off. That version of the Melvins on that night was beyond phenomenal. Just so inspiring. The music was – again – spat at the audience. Flung from the guitar, from the shake of the hair. It was a one-sided tennis match too. Just powering in aces. Buzzo stormed back and forth, seemingly pulled along by his guitar – it needed someone to vaguely steer it as it peeled off a history of rock-guitar solos and riffs. It surged, it pulled, it bullied the music, bashed and battered and bruised it. It used and abused it. It hurled what was left of the carcass of hard rock down into the pit where the photographers dared stand.
A load of Tool fans probably thought so fucking what. But I’m sure they reached a few. I know there would have been some (others) there for both bands too, of course. But I like to think that just one person – someone completely new to the band – had their head torn off by that; had their mind rearranged. Because that was the best effort by an opening act I’ve ever seen. If I coulda – as in if I wasn’t reviewing the main act – I’d have definitely taken a walk after that. Woulda strolled out into the night with the Melvins’ assault of music still circling and swimming in my mind.
I feel like that – to a lesser degree, but as close as you can – when I hear most of the band’s music on record. On CD. On my iPod. They’re just so good. So sure that what they’re doing needs to be there. Needs to happen. And if you don’t like it tough shit. You can move on or move off, move far away from it. They don’t need you. They kill it. Nightly. Rightly. They live for that moment on the stage.
If it was a perfect world I’d have seen Melvins in Auckland recently. In some sense I’m jealous of anyone who had the opportunity – I hope they didn’t fuck it up. Go see them when you do get the chance next. They melt your brains, they blow your minds. They leave nothing behind – they toss it all out at you from the stage.
They’re capable – almost every time – of giving you the Best Gig Ever.