Melvins 25th Anniversary Show
May 23, 2009
It was a Saturday night in Seattle when me and Dead C hopped into the bat mobile (aka: my Honda Accord) and rolled downtown. We were on our way to catch the Melvins 25th Anniversary show at the The Showbox by the Pike Place Market. Melvins were doing a handful of nationwide dates to celebrate their ¼ century as a band, but only the two Seattle dates featured the special guests, and local legends, Green River. Both of these two bands have played a significant roll in the progression from 70s metal into the grunge, garage, punk scene, and were a sigh of relief in a sea of glam rock and hair bands that were polluting our television and radio airwaves at that time. All of the musicians have a close affiliation and history with each other, including the sharing of early show bills and even a band member.
Growing up in the Seattle area as a teenage delinquent, grunge was a way of life. It was something to identify with in a whirlwind of bullshit. In the beginning, the music was for the kids who didn’t buy into the fucked up corporate game plan that was being shoved down our throats. In my case, it made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself so, I have great respect for the musicians that contributed to that.
Melvins formed in Montesano, Washington with Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne (guitar), Mike Dillard (drums), and Matt Lukin (later of Mudhoney) on bass. They started off by playing Hendrix and The Who covers in a basement and then graduated to fast punk. When Dillard eventually left the band 1984, Dale Crover took over on drums. Kurt Cobain was good friends with the group and, that year, he actually auditioned as a bass player. Reportedly, he was so nervous that he forgot most of the songs and didn’t make the cut. Not long after, Crover also played both bass and drums in Cobain’s first group, Fecal Matter. At one point, Cobain, Crover, Buzz, and Dillard were actually all members of Fecal Matter at the same time. In 1993, Cobain appeared on the Melvins‘ major label debut, Houdini [Atlantic], where he was featured on the songs “Skypup” [guitar] and “Spread Eagle Beagle” [percussion].
I didn’t jump on the Melvins bandwagon until 1993, when I heard Houdini for the first time. I was all dosed up at my buddy’s house and my mind was blown. At the time, I was really into the faster shit like Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, and D.R.I. Something about their stuff was different. It was slow like Flipper and kind of psychedelic in a dark way, but shared the same fuck you attitude as other punk bands that I enjoyed. I’ve never heard a Melvins track that I didn’t like. That says a lot about a band, especially one that has maintained seniority status throughout the drastic evolution in rock music over the last couple of decades.
You can pretty much write a book on Melvins’ growing success over the years, so I won’t go in to full detail. If you’re a fan, you know what’s up anyway, so I’ll be brief. This band has rocked 16 albums and gone through six bass players, and a drummer. They have also played with, been a part of, and/or collaborated with such acts as Primus, Tool, and Fantômas, and musicians like Jello Biafra, Gene Simmons, Kurt Cobain and many others over the last 25 years. Evidently, Melvins can not be stopped, but why would you want them to? In reality, they have been around for 26 years and 2009 only marks the 25th Anniversary of Buzz and Crover working together as the only consistent members of the group. I was excited to hear that this particular tour would involve the band playing the Houdini album in full. The advertisement also stated that they would be “performing as the Melvins from 1983”.
We arrived at the venue uncharacteristically on time and, thanks to the Monstefresh connection, we were let in for free. We also received a photo pass, which Dead C utilized to shoot all the wonderful pictures that are on display. After we got in, we kind of felt the place out for a minute. The crowd was fairly typical for a grunge show; everyone was a walking advertisement for their favorite bands. I probably spotted about 15 different people wearing “Honey Bucket” shirts. This show was the second of two nights and it was an all ages show. I started to notice that I was feeling old. It made me think about being 13 years old and seeing Mudhoney play at Green River Community College in Auburn Wa, for a can of soup and a couple bucks. Now it’s was almost 17 years later, I have children, and I’m still doing the same shit. There were actually quite a few parents there with their own kids, like they were showing them the ropes or something. It gave me some hope for the next generation.
We went up to the bar and grabbed some drinks. We waited and waited until, an hour later, Buzz walked out in a black, long-sleeve turtle neck sweater that stretched down to his toes. It sort of resembled an outfit that one of The Chipmunks would wear. His Sideshow Bob-like hair has faded from jet black to a grayish white over the years and he was wielding a silver, Les Paul-bodied, stainless-steel guitar. The frontman looked as if he had been teleported down from a spacecraft to destroy the Earth. Dale Crover also came out, but he picked up a bass as Mike Dillard sat at the drum kit. Osborne informed the crowd that they would be playing some early 80s-era tracks and that they would be doing so as the original Melvins from 1983. He also admitted that he was going to try and pass Crover off as Matt Lukin, like they had been doing at their previous shows, but that he didn’t think that anyone in Seattle would fall for it. “You guys know that’s not Matt Lukin.”
Before they began, King Buzzo informed us that he was drinking as he was writing many of the following tracks, so that they would be easier to play drunk later. He also suggested that, if the audience was intoxicated, they might sound better to us too. The set was pretty bad ass. They played songs like “Matt Alec” and “Set Me Straight” off Mangled Demos from 1983 [2005 Ipecac] as well as tracks like “Oven” from the Ozma album [1989 Boner Records]. About half way through the set, Dillard came up front to solo on a timbale-style tom set up. Dale Crover settled back in the kit to double drum and Buzz went into the Alice Cooper cover, “Ballad of Dwight Fry“. In that moment, I was really intrigued by his guitarmanship. I’ve never heard a band play without a bass and have it sound so full. Osbourne was able to support the weight of a song that had two drummers with nothing but his guitar chops and he managed to make it sound flawless. I now truly understand why they call him “King” Buzzo. For a while, they whittled it down even further into a 2-piece with only Buzz and Crover. They played another cover, “Let Me Roll It” by Paul McCartney and Wings, and “Black Bock”, from their album Stag [1996 Atlantic], with Dale Crover singing the chorus into his headset mic. They left the stage explaining that Green River would be next. Sometimes when two big names share a bill on multiple nights, they will alternate as headliners. I was very impressed, yet extremely confused, because I was under the impression that they would be doing Houdini in its entirety. I was starting to feel like I had been tricked.
Green River was a little predated for me, being that I was five when they came together, but most of their members went on to form bands that I knew and loved. The original Green River started in 1984 and included Mark Arm (guitar/vox) and Steve Turner (guitar), who had played together in previous bands Mr. Epps and the calculations and The Limp Richerds. The rhythm section consisted of Jeff Ament (bass) and drummer, Alex Vincent, who knew Turner from their days in the band Spluii Numa. When Arm chose to put down his instrument to focus more on his vocals, Turner helped to bring in guitarist Stone Gossard, who he had played with in the group Ducky Boys. Steve Turner left Green River, in 1985, after they had finished production on their first EP, Come on Down. Due to being fed up with the bands heavy metal direction, he walked away from a group that he had a huge part in assembling. Ament had originally moved to Seattle from Missoula with his Deranged Diction bandmate, Bruce Fairweather, and dreams of becoming like The New York Dolls. Fairweather became an easy choice and transitioned into Turner’s open guitar position.
Later that year, they set out on their first nation-wide tour to promote Come on Down. Unfortunately, since the EP’s release date was postponed, it defeated the purpose of a “promotional” tour. When the album was finally released on NY’s Homestead Records a year later, it received poor sales outside of Washington State. During 1986, the band’s continued touring of the Pacific Northwest and growing crowds landed them on the, now legendary, Deep Six compilation alongside the Melvins, Soundgarden, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard, and The U-Men. When they started production on their second EP, Dry as a Bone, they decided to release it on Bruce Pavitt’s new label Sub Pop records. Due to financial issues with the upstart label, this albums’ release was again postponed until the following year. By the time Green River started production on their first full-length, Rehab Doll, in 1987, issues had arisen among the members. On one side, Ament and Gossard started showing interest in pursuing a major label deal while, on the other side, Arm wanted to remain an independent artist. As the story goes, the shit finally hit the fan during a show in Los Angeles. Apparently, Ament chose to take it upon himself to fill the guest list spots, which were allotted for friends of the band, with the names of major labels representatives, instead. Only two of them even showed up. By October of 87, Ament, Gossard, and Fairweather quit the group, all agreeing to finish the album, which dropped in June of ’88 as the band ended.
After the break, Vincent moved to Japan. Mark Arm reunited with Steve Turner to form Mudhoney, along with ex-Melvins bassist Matt Lukin. Ament, Gossard and Fairweather teamed up with, Malfunkshun front man, Andrew Wood to form the cover band Lords of the Wasteland, which later became Mother Love Bone. With their rapidly growing success, they were about to release their debut album, in 1990, when Andrew Wood tragically died of a heroin overdose. Wood’s death hit hard and Fairweather went in a completely different direction by playing bass for the rock band Love Battery. Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard were asked by Wood’s then-roommate, Chris Cornell [Soundgarden], to be part of the one-off Andrew Wood tribute album, Temple of the Dog. Also featured on the release was Matt Cameron (Soundgarden/Hater/Pearl Jam) and Gossard and Ament’s other future Pearl Jam collaborators, Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder. When Green River finally reformed to play Sub Pop’s 20th Anniversary show last year, they did so with all 6 of the previous members.
While we waited for their set to start, we went up to the bar to grab another round of whiskeys and Blue Ribbon tall boys. When Green River walked out on to the stage, their lineup included all 3 guitarists. For someone who was not around for their original inception, it was a fascinating and, somewhat, disjointed sight. When they first started as a group, nobody knew who they were. Now, 20+ years after disbanding, Green River had become a retro-active Supergroup. 2 parts Mudhoney… 2 parts Pearl Jam…. 3 parts Mother Love Bone…etc. Bruce Fairweather was wearing a large white cowboy hat. Steve Turner had a beard and was wearing a blue western shirt. Mark Arm looked pretty much the same. They opened with their classic “Come on Down” and the crowd instantly filled with excitement.
Mark Arm was dancing around and singing his lungs out. His body flung around the stage like an epileptic rag doll. He was all cross-eyed and crazed, as usual, and it made me remember why I like him so much. It’s very obvious that they’re much more skilled in their crafts these days, compared to their old albums, and it was really cool to see them all together again, after so many years. Any focus of the band being comprised of separate entities dissipated, as they proved their undeniable cohesion and force as one solid unit. Once they began playing, their various contributions seemed to zap together magnetically, like a sonic Voltron.
Dead C went up front to take some more photos and I wandered into the pit to get pushed around a little. During the set, they rocked through tracks like “PCC” and “Swallow My Pride“. Arm explained that they were about to play a song which they had never officially recorded. He also explained that the song was so loud and heavy that, not only did they need 3 guitarists for it, but 2 drummers as well. That’s when Dale Crover came out to assist as second drummer for the song “Leech“, an Arm/Turner-written track that Melvins actually recorded under the name “Leeech” on their Gluey Porch Treatments album. Throughout the set, Gossard and Ament pulled some of their “Even Flow“-style rockstar antics like hopping around stage, playing towards the other musicians guitars, and standing on the drum riser, but it was entertaining and all in good fun. Towards the end, there was even a comically over the top moment, where Ament and the 3 guitarists tried to pull a four-way jam with all of their instruments facing each other’s, but it collapsed in subtle laughter. I felt very privileged to have seen them play and was comforted to know that grunge still existed in Seattle.
After Green River, we went out to grab a smoke in the back alley and returned to the show as happy campers. Melvins were back on stage and had just started rocking tracks from Houdini. Dale Crover was on the drums and, special guest/intermittent collaborator, Trevor Dunn [Mr. Bungle/Secret Chiefs 3/ Fantômas, etc] was on the bass. Dunn was decked out in “onesie” similar to Buzzo’s, except that his was camouflaged out. He was creating droning sounds from his bass, while bending over sideways with the tip of the headstock against the stage floor. As I looked around, I began to feel like I was in the book “Where the Wild Thing Are” from the beasts dancing circles in the pit and Melvins all dressed in there snuggies and shit. It was all incredibly surreal. Meanwhile, some chick in front of me was, pretty much, dry-humping her boyfriend. Every once in a while, she would look over his shoulder just to make sure that I was watching. What a lady! The band didn’t hold back at all with an amazing “Honey Bucket” that, literally, started spitting people out of the mosh pit like shelled nuts, and a “Goin’ Blind” that would top any Kiss version. Towards the end of the set, they brought out Green River drummer Alex Vincent to sit in, this time in a Sonics jersey. Mike Dillard returned to his tom set up and even Trevor Dunn played a drum of his own. Buzzo left the stage and the four remaining musicians finished off the set with a crazy drum jam. The show was incredible and Melvins have proven, once again, that, like a fine wine, they just get better with age and aren’t stopping for anything. I will definitely continue to see them whenever they come through Seattle.
It’s the 25th Anniversary of Melvins and Green River hadn’t even existed as a band again for over 20 years, so it’s clear that this entire event was being promoted as a nostalgia act. The greatest appeal and success, however, was not the reminiscence angle at all. The dynamic between a group who has stuck it out for so long, versus one who has reunited after being defunct for 2 decades, was fascinating to watch, but there was still more to it. I have never witnessed a band sandwich an opener between 2 sets before and it was an incredibly successful idea. No momentum was lost and I would like to see more shows adopt that approach, if they can pull it off as masterfully. However, I don’t believe that even that was the most effective part of the show. What was really impressive is that, instead of feeling like we were listening to old Grunge and Hardcore songs from our youth and having flashbacks to times of yore, everything sounded remarkably fresh. Green River’s set was an added bonus and they even sounded “new”, 25 years later, somehow. The state of music is as unstable and awkward as it has ever been and it’s comforting to know that Melvins are still around, trucking through it, and providing us with something worth listening to.
(please click thumbnails to enlarge and view photos)