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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts


Jeff Moehlis: The Melvins Produce A Sludge Supreme

Legendary band delivers sonic onslaught at Velvet Jones

By Jeff Moehlis, Noozhawk Contributor |

The Melvins are assured at least a footnote in rock ‘n’ roll history because of their connections to Nirvana and that band’s frontman Kurt Cobain, who counted them among his favorites.

Cobain and longtime Melvins Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne (guitar/vocals) and Dale Crover (drums) were friends from high school. In 1984, Cobain auditioned to play bass with The Melvins, but he was not chosen. The next year, Osborne and Crover played in Cobain’s first band Fecal Matter (with Osborne on bass). Later, in 1988, Crover played on Nirvana’s 10-song demo, most of which was released on their albums Bleach and Incesticide.

After Nirvana went supernova with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the album Nevermind, Cobain championed The Melvins, even co-producing and playing on a few tracks for the band’s 1993 major-label debut Houdini.

Probably because of these Nirvana connections, The Melvins are often called Godfathers of Grunge. This is, however, a bit misleading. Certainly they were influential on the grunge bands, and even had a few tracks on the 1986 grunge-defining Deep Six compilation. But their sludgy, heavier-than-Black-Sabbath metal never really had the radio-friendliness that brought grunge to the masses. Indeed, The Melvins never really rose above cult status.

But through it all, The Melvins have steadily and uncompromisingly kept at it, having by now released 20-plus albums. Their current month-long West Coast tour is in support their newest one called The Bride Screamed

The Melvins took the stage at Velvet Jones in outrageous costumes: Osborne, whose frizzed-out gray hair would have made Andy Warhol (and his wigmaker) jealous, was wearing a black muumuu with a colorful equine motif and a high, loose collar. Bassist Jared Warren looked like a sparkle-loving Roman gladiator, and drummers Crover and Coady Willis wore colorful patterned gowns.

The music was sludgy and metallic, as expected. The sonic onslaught started with “The Water Glass,” the lead track off their new album that features a playful call by Osborne and response by the others of “Here we
go/Everyday/All the way/In the groove/On the move” and “We are ready, ready, ready.”

Like the new album, the was followed by the pounding “Evil New War God.” Next up was “Amazon,” the first dip into The Melvins’ vast back catalog. Also on the program was “Black Book,” “Electric Flower” with the
chant “We want it! Let’s get it!” the more recent “Billy Fish” and “Pig House” off the new album.

Although the music of The Melvins has a strong visceral element, and as such inspired some moshing at the concert, there is a surprising amount of sophistication to it, with complicated time signatures and changes
that somehow seamlessly fit together. This certainly doesn’t fit into the standard 4/4 heavy metal box.

The Melvins are also known for sprinkling cover songs into their sets. At Velvet Jones this included “Sacrifice” by the like-minded San Francisco band Flipper with a heavy repeating bass riff, a rather twisted a capella version of “Happy Birthday,” and Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop a Lula” sung by Warren.

The 90-minute show ended with a stunning drum duet by Crover and Willis over the rumble of the feedbacking bass guitar.

Opening the evening was Totimoshi, a Bay Area band whose heavy metal is a bit more straightforward than but still influenced by The Melvins’. Their set featured some impressive riffage from guitarist Tony Aguilar, especially in a couple of cool, intense instrumentals.

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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