Melvins - Stylus Leeds University Union, Leeds - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Melvins - Stylus Leeds University Union, Leeds

by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date:
Melvins - Stylus Leeds University Union, Leeds
Melvins - Stylus Leeds University Union, Leeds

As Halloween approaches what double-header could be more appropriate than Jon Spencer and Melvins? Spencer is currently out on tour with Buzzo and his sludge-rock crew and tonight, much to my giddy excitement, they arrive at Stylus in Leeds.

“Are you ready to do it?!” asks a typically enthusiastic Jon Spencer from the stage. With his Blues Explosion on hold, Spencer arrives tonight playing under his own name and alongside a new band. Spencer referring to them, with typical flair, as The Fabulous Hit Makers.

So has he mellowed his sound? Do we get some gently contemplative ballads? ‘Do the Trash Can’ would seem to suggest otherwise as the band raise a suitably dirty blues-rock ruckus. A keyboardist and two drummers on stage, one playing an actual trash can (not sure if our plastic rubbish bins would work the same).

It might not be quite as wild as some of Spencer’s previous material but it’s still, undeniably, explosive. The songs focussing on stripped-back, dare I say traditional, rock ‘n’ roll. As the album title suggests, this is Spencer Sings the Hits. The likes of ‘Fake’ and the punky, keyboardist sung ‘Tough Times in Plastic Land’ providing heart-racing, vitriolic rock ‘n’ roll at its finest.

The set just seems to get better and better as they go on. The last song presents us with a low-swung, dark groove that finds Spencer telling us about a “liar” who puts children in cages. Any doubts as to who it might be referring to are wiped clean away with a final, definitive “fuck you Trump”. Whether he’s with the Blues Explosion or not, Spencer always provides the goods.

Music, of course, isn’t a competition but if it was then Montesano, Washington sludge-metal supremos Melvins would surely be winning? This year’s Pinkus Abortion Technician was the sound of a band comfortable with doing exactly what they want. Beatles and Butthole Surfers cover versions? Sure thing. Sludgy guitars and a bit of banjo? Well, why not.

Tonight they open with the relentless and ridiculously heavy grind of ‘Sesame Street Meat’. Bassist Steve McDonald, as always, looking like he’s having the time of his life. Stalking the stage in full-on rock star mode as the music rattles our ever grateful bones. One bass guitar might be enough for most bands but Melvins have McDonald playing alongside ex-Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus for good measure.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the band 5 times now and one thing is abundantly clear, no one does it quite like Melvins. The groovy yet reliably heavy ‘The Kicking Machine’ is followed by a brief but thrilling run through David Bowie’s ‘Saviour Machine’. An enthusiastic cover of the Rolling Stones ‘Sway’ almost rubbing shoulders with a speedy, hard-hitting ‘Honey Bucket’ and the darkly psychedelic heaviness of ‘The Bit’.

In many ways, Melvins are the classic rock band of our times. It’s just that they’re far weirder, far heavier than that label implies. Fully committed to every song, every riff wrestled to the floor. McDonald and Pinkus even indulge in a few synchronised high-kicks. If you looked up ‘rocking out’ in the dictionary, surely there would be a picture of Melvins in full-flow?

‘Stop Moving to Florida’ starts as a classic-rock James Gang cover before descending (or is that ascending?) into a faithfully weird rendition of Butthole Surfers ‘Moving to Florida’. Dressed in a wizards robe and Converse trainers, Buzzo takes great joy in slurring out the drunken hillbilly narrative in the song. Melvins have never, thankfully, lost their mischievous sense of humour.

The Pinkus sung ‘Don’t Forget to Breathe’ proves to be far more brutal than its recorded counterpart while ‘Evil New War God’ ends in a barrage of noise and a patented Dale Crover drum solo. It’s been said many times but it’s always worth repeating; Dale Crover is the best, and the heaviest, drummer around.

A darkly atmospheric and brilliantly sinister ‘Eye Flys’ balances tense restraint and Birthday Party levels of noise. Welcome to the car crash indeed. Before they leave us a birthday cake is brought on for Pinkus; 50 something years young and still taking care of business. Approaching the microphone as the rest of the band leaves the stage, Crover treats us to a little acapella run through ‘So Long Farewell’ from The Sound of Music. Like I said before, no one does it quite like Melvins.

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