It's a Killer She's a Killer Maker
The Melvins and Big Business at Emo's, Austin, TX, on August 22nd 2008
by: Jeremy Ulrey
There's a reason I don't do a whole lot of show reviews, and I'm gonna get the full disclosure treatment out of the way up front: I can't remember song titles for shit. I used to be pretty good at it, used to be able to pull 'em straight off the dome, not only the song title itself but also the album it came out on, the year of release, and even the approx. counter reading you had to fast forward the cassette to if you didn't have one of those bad ass Pioneer decks with the auto ffwd>> that could recognize the two second gap between tracks, stop, back up a few inches, and let loose at just the right moment a mere half minute or so after you'd chosen to leap frog the previous tune (this was as close to A.I. as we got in 1986). Well, back then I had much more concentrated tastes in music, with the years progressing seeing a greater volume of unheard albums on the backburner to get to. For years now I've just found myself perpetually behind the eight ball, always more shit to get to, not enough hours in the day, too little quality control to avoid those prolonged burn out periods, too much accumulated during your absence to ever get truly caught up, etc etc. In short, well nigh fucked. I'm lucky if I remember what any given song on an album sounded like six months after I review it, even if the fucker warranted a 9.0+ rating.

But that's ok, right? I mean to some extent. Is there any more obvious indication that a scribe can't scribe for shit than when he or she is reduced to rattling off song titles one by one and muttering something tossed off and lacking in insight? "Truly the highlight of the evening was when Hetfield and the boys jettisoned the neuvo-'Tallica strains of "Fuel" and "No Leaf Clover" and fired the capacity crowd up with a rousing sing along to "Enter Sandman" followed by the incomparable "Master of Puppets" and holy shit I can't believe they did "Motorbreath", a by golly sure fire thrash nugget if'n there ever was one".

Yeah, except on the other hand it pays to actually be able to pull those song titles out of your ass when you do in fact need 'em. It's not like the choice is either sheer fucking ignorance or using the knowledge for unimaginative stabs at pre-eminent twathood. But it's not all bleak, folks; fortunately the good people at Lone Star Beer juice their brews with all the electrolytes and anaerobic microfacilitators one needs to obtain full post-traumautic audio recognizance free associative recall.

At least for the Melvins.

I hadn't properly familiarized myself with the Big Business corpus ahead of time, so the wonder brew was of no help to me there.

They were good though. For sure.

Albeit there are a couple things that disturb me about this whole Melvins/BB hook up... nothing fatal, but nagging ambiguities do abound. First of all, Jared Warren now mans bass duties for the Melvins as well as singing (and bass slangin') for Big Business, and though he's a capable enough frontman for BB, too many of the vocal chores that in the past would have been the domain of King Buzzo have fallen on Warren for no apparent reason, except that the Big Buzzard seems worn out, burnt out and turned out, lost and hiding in that now grey pseudo-'fro, hammering out the down strokes like he's supposed to but with no real gumption aside from the fact that he's supposed to... so I'm jumping ahead a bit, but during the expected encore of "Boris", when Buzzo is fucking with the song's rhythm with no real alt-blueprint in mind -- no jazz improv this mind you -- and Warren is supplementing Buzz-kill's phoned in vo-kills in a high pitched Donald Duck parody and, no shit, the fucker's wearing a sailor's outfit, which to me up until then reminded me of some wry post-modern comment on Popeye's legacy for the simple fact that Jared Warren looks exactly like -BLUTO-!!!... well, fuck, how do you explain -that-?

So there they are fucking up, objectively speaking, the best Melvins song ever, but what about before all that? Tell you what, let's get the rest of my qualms out of the way and then I'll talk about how good this fucker was. The only other thing that left me scratching my head is this whole drum interplay between Coady Willis and the certifiable Dale Crover. It's really not "interplay", that's the deal... it's two guys playing the exact same drum pattern, which is not an every day thing, granted, but beyond the novelty value is not altogether inherently brilliant either. It's kind of funny at points, because you've got a song like "The Kicking Machine" off the recent _Nude With Boots_, which is such an obvious Zeppelin clone that it's as if Crover and Willis got together and figured that now that there were two of them they could finally approximate the percussive might of John Bonham. The song, while catchy enough, does nothing for the Melvins but adds immeasurably to the Led Zep legacy, which is a pretty sweet gig if you're Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, or, fuck, even Jason B., because you get unsolicited career validation without having to lift a finger, and this in a way that Hootie & the Blowfish doing "Hey Hey What Can I Do" can never give.

So the stereo effect is only impressive for the first few songs, and then it's just effective... it never detracts, exactly, it's just there. Again: two guys combining for something that John Bonham could have done single handed, and at that with just one kick drum filled with an acoustically deadening concoction of bitter ale and rye whiskey and a forgotten yet live mike picking up filtered strains of apocalyptic reverberations from way the fuck back in the hotel room and rebroadcasting it via tin can and kite string back to the stadium crowd. But hey, that's something, I'm certainly not trying to cockblock anyone's grab for immortality here. _Nude With Boots_ album track "Suicide in Progress" (not performed live) is a further exploration of Zep mannerisms, stirring up the funk and the bass heavy time changes with their usual nonsensical righteousness and, of course, ending with 30 seconds of Test Dept.-esque spoon man worship a la "Spread Eagle Beagle" (speaking of which, they did perform a couple _Houdini_ stingers, naturally, but frankly did such an obligatory and high blaspheme run through of them that you'll forgive me if I omit the very mention etc etc).

Another aspect of the Melvins' current Business plan is the overwhelming reliance on tunes from the last two Melvins records, _(a) Senile Animal_ and _Nude With Boots_, both of which just so happen to be the ones that Warren/Willis play on. Well over half the set list is culled from these two platters, but whereas that should be the straw that trod fatally upon the camel's back maybe it turns out to be the saving grace of tonight's performance after all. In spite of the (at times marginal) dumbing down of Crover's inventive legacy of drumming with the aforementioned whippersnapper in tow, and a career high in melodic accessibility, the Melvins have really hit their stride in terms of writing classic songs in the last couple years. Reviews haven't necessarily reflected this, but probably the easiest explanation is that, following several years of increasingly experimental releases, the band have funneled their critical fan base down to merely those that prefer the structurally challenged ambience of the Lustmord collabs, the relatively straightforward punk dabbling with Jello Biafra, or just the all-over-the-place inconsistency of pretty much everything else the Melvins have ever fucked with.

While I myself would decry any permanent loss of the core trio's avant garde leanings, it's tough to argue with the quality of the material released during the Warren/Willis tenure, even if it does very nearly approach -- GASP! -- shit that could be conceivably played on the ray-de-ho. Another Nixon-era knob slobbin' ditty I don't remember them playing but they may very well have in all the mayhem and the fracas was "Nude With Boots", which begins -- as so many other tracks on this year's album do -- with a colossal yet swingin' dual drum solo before settling into what sounds like a grunge song reverse engineered back to its '70s components, today's Jared/King "harmonies" notwithstanding.

That said, I think 2006's _(a) Senile Animal_ is easily the superior of the two albums, something that's more than reflected in tonight's set list. By my recollection the band played exactly the first three (of eleven) tracks off _Nude With Boots_, a record that starts off catchy and accessible but the middle finger is waving frantically by side two (so no loss of avant garde leanings and I'm back to sleeping at night). By contrast, they practically ran a clinic on the whole damned _...Senile..._ record. The stop-start spasm of "Blood Witch" seemed to morph seamlessly into the bass-compensating histrionics of "A History of Bad Men", the shuck jive shuffle "A History of Drunks", and holy shit I can't believe they played "Civilized Worm" to motherfucking boot! That there's a true blue peer validated sludge chestnut if'n there ever was one.

(article submitted 1/9/2008)


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