Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Drum's not dead


The three men who finally take to the stage - after some unnerving ambient noise that has started to become wearing - are called Porn (The Men Of). A word of advice: it's probably best not to look them up online, especially if you're at work. The bassist (a stand-in for Billy Anderson, engineer for everyone from Neurosis to Red House Painters) wears a suit and the guitarist (Melvins manager Tim Moss) a Santa outfit. Drummer Dale Crover, meanwhile, is dressed as Elvis. Standing at the front of the stage, he takes a big bite of a banana to a round of applause.

And then they're off. With a bang. Except they've soon stopped again. And that's the problem - a bit of dicking (or should that be fannying?) about, then a song and with it a head of steam, but then more dicking about. It's something of a Pavlovian exercise - getting us salivating at a riff to die for, only to abandon it abruptly. There's not playing to the crowd, and then there's deliberately toying with us. It'll take more than Santa's mischievous promise of pot to win me round.

Suffice to say that LA duo Big Business cut rather different figures in the flesh than they do in the picture on their MySpace page. Bassist Jared Warren is unshaven and long-haired, while drummer Coady Willis, once of Seattle garage rockers Murder City Devils, belies his own clean-cut photographic representation, setting about giving a demonstration of how to play drums with both technical brilliance and astounding force.

Crover - whose own efforts behind the kit with Porn were sufficiently energetic to dislodge his Elvis wig - contributes guitar to a couple of Warren and Willis' sludgy clout-to-the-head songs, and shortly afterwards the unmistakeable figure of Buzz Osborne emerges and suddenly it's The Melvins we're watching.

If you're thinking "Who?!", it's time for a quick history lesson. Towards the end of tonight's set, Osborne expresses his disappointment at the fact that scheduled support act, the reformed Flipper, have had to pull out - thus depriving us of a sighting of Krist Novoselic, currently performing bass duties for them, and of their rendition of 'Scentless Apprentice'. But the Nirvana connection is not severed by Novoselic and Flipper's no-show. Oh no.

For starters, Crover was a founder member of Kurt Cobain's first band Fecal Matter, for whom Osborne also briefly featured. Crover then drummed on two tracks on Nirvana's debut Bleach ('Floyd The Barber' and 'Paper Cuts') and again filled in for Chad Channing when they joined Sonic Youth for a 1990 tour. Osborne, meanwhile, was the person who gave Dave Grohl's number to Novoselic. And as if that weren't reason enough for The Melvins to be hailed as the godfathers of grunge, they also originally featured Matt Lukin, later bassist with Mudhoney, and inspired every single band to ride the grunge wave out of Seattle, from Soundgarden to Pearl Jam. Impeccable credentials indeed.

Massively influential, then, but what do The Melvins actually sound like? Well, when pondering how to go about defending Birmingham's musical legacy recently, I considered posting just two words: "Black Sabbath". And it's Ozzy and company from whom Osborne and company most obviously take their cue, though it's also fair to say that the echo of Henry Rollins' Black Flag is ever-present in their fusion of metal and punk. The Melvins are unlikely to win any prizes for sophistication and subtlety, but for sheer no-nonsense wrecking-ball riffage they're hard to beat.

It's only for their latest album (A) Senile Animal (released on Ipecac, the label set up by Faith No More and Mr Bungle man Mike Patton with whom Osborne founded Fantomas) that The Melvins have expanded to a foursome - and there's a certain irony in the fact that it's a band called Big Business who have been swallowed up. Warren and Willis bring extra oomph, thump, thwack, weight. In particular, the effect of having two drummers contributing to every song - and not always simply mirroring each other, either - is quite incredible.

Each and every song is duly met with joy unrestrained by the fans at the front, whose behaviour - forming a moshpit, stagediving, throwing devil horns, lobbing half-full cans of lager about - is not that which one imagines occurs very often in churches, even those deconsecrated and converted into gig venues like the Point.

As for myself, I'm utterly transfixed by the way the spotlight illuminates Osborne's extraordinary hair (think a poodle perm exploded into a mushroom cloud) swaying and falling as he nods his head. The excruciating stiffness of my neck at the end of the night, after one final drum duel between Willis and Crover, is enough to indicate that I too have been nodding away furiously - and that I've been treated to a rather fine introduction to a rather fine band.


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