Review by Laina Dawes; Photography by Adam Wills
I knew it!
I knew that the Melvins would open their set with “The Water Glass,” the first track off their latest, The Bride Screamed Murder. First, it’s one of the most, umm, “experimental” tracks off their… while creative, sonically uneven new album. Secondly and most importantly, it is simply a great kick-off to what would be a fantastic show – their first in Toronto in a decade. The military drum cadence and call-and-response vocals served as quite the introduction, instantly separating longtime e fans from the throngs of Queen Street scenesters who were there because they thought it would be “kewl.” Some cheered when they started the American Army-esque drum beats, and some scratched their head in confusion.
However, perhaps I shouldn’t complain about the crowd, because at least they were there. The Opera House was pleasantly packed to the brim and even the balcony was rammed, but so many people in a non air-conditioned space when it was 31 degrees outside meant that I was sweating out of orifices I didn’t even know I had. Unlike many of the extreme-ish metal shows I usually attend, by the grace of God, getting hit in the face by a lock of long, greasy hair was not a worry, as the front of the stage was full of frosh man/boys with short hair and baseball caps to soak up their beer-saturated sweat, and older folks who had almost as much gray hair as Guitarist / Vocalist King Buzzo – whom I’d like to know how he kept cool under his thick, velour-hooded gown.
But I think that the Melvins knew that their eighteenth full-length is – while surprisingly creative after eighteen albums – is a challenge to comprehend, so they played some of the more “classic Melvins” tracks off it. Entering the stage without verbally acknowledging the crowd, King Buzzo quickly waved and got right down to it. Starting off with a few tracks from The Bride Screamed Murder, including “Evil New War God” and “Pig House,” they followed with the most excellent “The Kicking Machine” and “Billy Fish” off of Nude with Boots. Before going back to their latest, they continued their “Greatest Hits” section, wowing the slightly subdued crowd (people didn’t know if they should get a pit going or shake their narrow behinds) with Houdini’s “Hooch,” “Set Me Straight” and a bit later, “Night Goat.”
The best part of the show outside of a really awesome 20-song setlist was watching drummers Coady Willis and Dale Crover play. I’d seen the band in Detroit last year and even though the duo has drummed together for almost four years, Willis seemed more confident on this stop. The younger of the duo that joined the band in 2006 with his partner in Big Business, bassist Jared Warren, was more aggressive. Crover was still in command, but while they played mostly in tandem and both were decked out in what looked like vintage muumuus castoffs from a Liza Minnelli video shoot circa 1983, you could really see their different playing styles, and there were more individual flourishes evident in their new material than ever before. Willis still occasionally glanced over at Crover to lead, but they seemed to be a tighter unit.
Also, the vocals were amazing. Nude with Boots and The Bride Screamed Murder are both filled with strong harmonies and lush choruses, and even in a live performance they effortlessly pulled them off. Afro’ed Warren is also a strong vocalist, and despite his limited stage movements and Hawaii Five-O ( the original one, not the remake) getup of white polyester pants and a floral shirt, really complimented King Buzzo and Crover, and the injection of youth really seemed to invigorate their classic sound.
The only complaint I would have about the evening was that their performance, while sonically and technically mesmerizing, was emotionally cold. The fact that they never directly addressed the crowd – even though it was their first time in the T-Dot in ten years – seemed a bit weird. I’m not looking for a Celine Dion, ass-licking adulation, but still, it seemed like they didn’t really give a fuck. Jus’ sayin.’
They finished the evening with an acapella version of Merle Haggard’s 1969 hit “Okie from Muskogee,” and Willis and Crover stood up, balancing themselves on their drum kits to sing to the crowd. But the vocal delivery by the quartet was forced and rang false. The irony of the song and its delivery, 40 years after the songs’ inception, should have been humorously ironic but it seemed as though they were almost making fun of the crowd.
I know that the Melvins have a reputation of being a bit cranky, but despite the sweltering heat, the chill in the room was palatable. I would have to shave a few points off what was otherwise a great show by a band that I’d been hoping would grace my city because of the feeling that the crowds’ appreciation wasn’t recognized by them at all.