By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Over the course of a 35+ year career playing by their own rules, guitarist Buzz Osborne and monster drummer Dale Crover have co-piloted seminal underground rock band the Melvins through a wildly diverse exploration of heavy music. Inspired by the slow tempos and down-tuned guitar sludge of Black Sabbath as well as the dissonance of punk iconoclasts Flipper and My War-era Black Flag, the Melvins became legends in Washington State during their formative years in the early-to-mid 1980s after being founded in the small town of Montesano.
The band’s combination of crushing riffs and lumbering grooves would end up influencing the entire Northwest music scene. Aberdeen natives and early fans Kurt Cobain (who at one point auditioned for the band) and Krist Novoselic were inspired to form Nirvana, while fellow grunge heavyweights like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden similarly updated the Sabbath template. The Melvins have been credited as a cornerstone inspiration for a number of heavy rock subgenres, providing the template for stoner-rock bands and experimental drone terrorists alike.
With a revolving cast of bassists, the Melvins have produced a veritable landslide of experimentally minded releases that have consistently pushed the envelope of alternative rock. Whether recording for major label Atlantic during the early ’90s or issuing discs on numerous independent imprints, the group has forged a singular, instantly recognizable sound without ever being afraid to make major experimental detours. The band has received piles of critical accolades since the start of its collaboration with with equally heavy duo Big Business featuring bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis a decade ago with the celebrated effort (A) Senile Animal in 2006.
Powered by a massive two-drummer onslaught (the two players used a huge overlapping kit that shared some drums), that album and follow-up recordings Nude with Boots and The Bride Screamed Murder spotlit Osborne’s twisted, tuneful riffs and some of the band’s catchiest output yet. The group would also branch out with other collaborators, partnering with noted avant-rock bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, John Zorn) on an album and a record-breaking tour that had the trio playing 50 states and Washington, D.C. in 51 days with Dunn sticking exclusively to acoustic bass, reuniting with original drummer Mike Dillard (with Crover switching to bass), issuing a guest-packed collection of cover songs (Everybody Loves Sausages in 2013) and recording with Butthole Surfers members Paul Leary and bassist J.D. Pinkus (who had already served as a frequent touring member of the band).
In 2016, the group managed to further ramp up its already prolific output. In addition to Sub Pop issuing a set of long-shelved recordings with godheadSilo bassist Mike Kunka that were recorded back in the late ’90s (credited to Mike and the Melvins and entitled Three Men and a Baby), the band toured extensively with latest bass-playing recruit Steven McDonald of Redd Kross and OFF! fame to promote their another more recent release. The Ipecac Records effort Basses Loaded featured newer material recorded with McDonald as well as songs featuring a variety of recent bassists and a guest spot from Novoselic himself.
In addition playing some shows in conjunction with screenings of the documentary The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale by co-directors Bob Hannam and Ryan Sutherby, the band members also found the time to collaborate with with singer Terri Genderbender (Le Butcherettes) and Omar Rodríguez-López (The Mars Volta, At the Drive-In) in the new group Crystal Fairy for an eponymous effort on Ipecac as well as recording their first double album, A Walk With Love and Death.
The 2017 collection matched an album’s worth of more traditional Melvins material with a second set of experimental recordings that serve as the score to an avant-garde short film entitled Love made by band friend and director Jesse Nieminen. Crover has also released his solo debut The Fickle Finger of Fate via Joyful Noise Recordings. While he had already made a number of albums as the leader of his side project band Altamont, the effort gave Crover a chance to stretch out on everything from drum experiments to fractured pop tunes.
Having already brought the band’s explosive two-drummer line-up to fans, the Melvins presented a new mutant version of the band with its latest album Pinkus Abortion Technician that features both Pinkus and McDonald playing bass. A rare exception to Melvins releases that are usually dominated by songs written by Osborne, the new effort includes a couple of reworked Butthole Surfers songs (including a twisted mash-up of the R&B/rock standard “Stop” with the Surfers song “Moving to Florida”), a warped cover of the Beatles’ standard “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and a mix of originals penned by Crover, Pinkus and McDonald.
While the prolific band uncharacteristically did not release a new album last year, the Melvins performed at an all-star tribute to the late Soundgarden singer Christ Cornell at the Forum in Los Angeles in January before an extensive tour with the two-bassist line-up. The band also issued a new four-song collaborative EP recorded with avowed inspiration Flipper that included the Melvins covering a pair of Flipper songs along with two tunes with the two groups’ members playing together. The Melvins also put out a second collaborative EP with Swedish artist Sh-tKid (the stage name for punk songwriter Åsa Söderqvist).
For this current tour that featured the band supporting like-minded mavericks Mr. Bungle for one of their Los Angeles reunion shows, the Melvins stick with their straight trio line-up with McDonald on bass. The band comes to Slim’s Wednesday night with former bassist Kevin Rutmanis (who also founded iconic noise-rock act Cows and played with Mike Patton’s super group Tomahawk) and his new corrosive project Hepa-Titus. Opening LA-based band C–ts which features Retox/Dead Cross guitarist Michael Crain and is fronted by Qui’s Matt Cronk.
Melvins with Hepa-Titus and C–ts
Wednesday, February 12, 8 p.m. $25 (sold out)