The Melvins | Honky Trees Saturday, August 10, 2013
Sometimes you've just got to stand right at the front, in the middle. Especially when there's two drum kits, both slightly angled in, so if you stand in the right place they're like terrifying speakers positioned exactly for your benefit. Only then does a true sonic assault become apparent, as it is not until you've stood directly in between two drum kits being smashed so hard that both drummers are grimacing and straining, with the kits looking like they may fall apart at any second, that you become one with the crunch. Until then, you are but a day-tripper to the crunch, a music-goer who thinks they might have seen two people drumming at once one time or another, but they were really far away, and it was dark, and anyway, it could have been some scaffolding.
Maybe you saw a band once, and thought they were really, really heavy, and that they made a gigantic noise, but when you really think about it, they only had one drum kit. What were you thinking? You certainly have never experienced the crunch. You might have seen a school band once, and they had like five drum kits, but they had children playing them. Again, the crunch is a mystery to you.
Essentially, to ensure that the loudest (and therefore best) thing is happening directly in your ears at all times, you will need two drum kits, staffed by two fully grown men who seem to really hate their drum kits, and you will need to position these so it's like wearing drum headphones. These men should not be playing beats that compliment each other, filling in gaps to construct a more complex sound. Instead, ensure that both of these men have some sort of psychic connection so that they will play the exact same thing at the exact same time, for exactly twice the noise. Now you are ready for true hearing loss.
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The Melvins came to town Saturday night, and I couldn't be more deaf right now if someone had encased my whole head in concrete as the result of a particularly cruel practical joke. Opening up for them was Honky, who are exactly what Ray Wylie Hubbard would sound like if he was driving a rocket-powered car and shouting. That is, southern-fried Texas rock, but at a million miles a second. Nothing particularly stuck, but I remember it being delightful. Honky had but one drummer, but the thing is, it was Dale Crover of the Melvins, a man for whom the word "stamina" and the phrase "conserve your energy" must be confusing uses of the language. He plays drums as if he both wants to play perfectly and get to the end of the set as quickly as possible, in which case he is a human blur, putting complex fills into spaces where most drummers would casually hit a snare once and consider the hi-hat.
Notably, Rex Brown of Pantera guested on the bass for one track, looking a lot more healthy and with-it than the last time I saw him at Trees playing with Kill Devil Hill. Jeff Pinkus, bass player for Honky, was suddenly shorn of his bass guitar and thrust onto lead vocals with nothing to distract his hands. He looked like a man who had all his clothes stolen while making a public appearance. Never has a man with so many bad-ass tattoos looked so awkward. My favorite Pinkus tattoo (a sadly unexplored category of rock journalism) is the most Texan tattoo I have ever witnessed, the "COME AND TAKE IT" flag and cannon tattooed ON HIS FUCKING NECK. This is a man who likes Texas.
For Honky's final track of a set which flew by (it should also be noted that as the Trees curtain flew back at the start of their set, Pinkus announced "Hey! We're Honky! Thanks for having us, this is our last song!") Coady of the Melvins joined Dale on the drums, and now, suddenly, we were all at the epicenter of the crunch, pondering why it was that any band would only have one drummer. The sheer noise, and the joy in seeing two men hit exactly the same thing at exactly the same time, can only be explained in the sense that it's like a metal version of the synchronised dancing that women and children love so much. This conclusion leads to the further conclusion that seeing three or even four drummers do this at the exact same time would be so good that I'd probably turn into one of those teenage girls that screams at the latest synchronised-dancing boy band, only with a black t-shirt and a beard.
After a very short break indeed, just long enough for Crover to shotgun fifteen cans of energy drink, the Melvins stepped out onto the stage, starting with one of the slowest, sludgiest, least crowd-friendly songs in their entire oeuvre, Houdini's stately "Hag Me," which is eight minutes or so of held noted and instances where the drums are only hit once every few seconds, but that hit makes the whole of Trees quiver. It's the slow pounding on the door that announces Buzz and his cohorts are here, and that rather than interact with an audience, play to the crowd in any way, say hello, or even stop in between songs, that they're going to play a two-hour song now, and they don't really care for your opinion on it.
The joy in the crowd after the initial shock of a double-drum battering around the head surfaced, eventually, around favorites like Stoner Witch's "Sweet Willy Rollbar" and most notably for the sheer force of "Night Goat," the bassline to which heralded a palpable shiver running through the crowd before absolute mayhem broke out in the prime crunch area.
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This whole time, you understand, and we're about an hour into the set here, Dale and Coady have not missed a single beat with each other. It's one thing when you've got a drummer trying to keep rhythm, but it's quite another when you've got two drummers trying to keep rhythm with each other and push a band with as many complex ideas as the Melvins forward. It's never something you'll truly get across on record, which is a shame, but also a joy in the way that it reinvents and reinforces the live experience of this band. It does seem like Jeff Pinkus has been in this band his entire life, rather than a bass player who is stepping in for this tour, so seamlessly does his beard and baseball cap blend into a band that already feature two disparately-dressed drummers and a man in a muu-muu with planets on it sporting a shock of white hair, like some sort of sludge metal-pedalling cult leader. If all of this sounds strange, it is. There's not another live band like the Melvins, and it'll take a damn sight more than the thirty years this band has been around for before we find something else like it.
Hag Me The War on Wisdom We Are Doomed Sweet Willy Rollbar A Growing Disgust Let It All Be Your Blessened Night Goat Lizzy Billy Fish The Water Glass Evil New War God Hung Bunny Roman Dog Bird Graveyard (Butthole Surfers cover)