Noise-rockers the Melvins revisit (and reinterpret) their classic albums onstage
When the Melvins cover five records from their vast catalog over the next two nights at the Paradise, by no means should anyone expect Roger Waters-like, note-perfect re-creations.
“The albums are mere suggestions,’’ said Melvins guitarist and singer Buzz Osborne. “We play like a real band. We change stuff live.’’
In opting to play “Lysol’’ (later changed to “Melvins’’ once the cleaning-product people cried foul), “Eggnog,’’ and “Houdini’’ tonight, then “Bullhead’’ and “Stoner Witch’’ tomorrow, the Melvins are certainly giving themselves plenty of suggestions. Released between 1991 and ’94, those records had the Melvins delving into drone, generating jarring soundscapes, crafting cogent hard rock, and covering Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Flipper.
“Those records sum up a lot of different aspects of the band,’’ said Hydra Head Records founder Aaron Turner, whose former group Isis was heavily influenced by the Melvins and eventually became tourmates with the band. “ ‘Eggnog’ is some of the most unhinged music the band has made. ‘Houdini’ is the Melvins at their rocking best.’’
The Melvins are setting up two-night stands in six cities across the country, with each locale getting the same dose of music (though results are sure to vary). The idea was born in January when the Melvins performed every Friday at Spaceland in Los Angeles. Those shows featured a set of new songs followed by an older album played in its entirety. The Melvins modified that concept to take on the road. (Weird fact: The Melvins don’t like to tour the US in the winter because of bad weather, yet managed to be in Australia and Japan during both those countries’ recent earthquakes and missed the last Mexico City temblor by a day) .
Neither Osborne nor longtime Melvins drummer Dale Crover could say exactly why these particular records were chosen for the tour. But both conceded that the idea intrigued them, and should prove especially exciting to their fans.
“It’s something different,’’ Crover said. “Some of these songs haven’t been played live in 20 years. Some of the stuff on ‘Stoner Witch’ has never been played live at all. We’ve done a lot of US tours over the last 10 years, and we thought about taking a break. But the January residency was pretty popular.’’
In addition to mixing up the song sequences within each album set, the shows will feature second drummer Coady Willis and bassist Jared Warren, neither of whom performed on the original recordings and are expected to bring their own interpretations to the tunes.
Osborne formed the Melvins in 1983 in his native Washington state. Over time, the band mutated its original hardcore punk sound into longer, more cryptic and twisted songs, in the process becoming a link between the grunge of Nirvana (for which Crover sat in temporarily until Dave Grohl arrived) and the prog-metal of Tool (which wouldn’t play Ozzfest in 1998 unless the Melvins were put on the bill too; Osborne’s review: “I hated Ozzfest’’).
“I know I can be a Groucho Marxist,’’ Osborne said of his mixture of bemusement and scorn for the industry he is in. “I’m not cynical, I just have a punk-rock attitude. And by that I don’t mean I want to be like one of those bands that plays in the parking-lot festival. It’s about being interesting. And I don’t care who you are. I’d love for Mötley Crüe to make a good album. It’s just not going to happen.’’
If it were all just a noisy gimmick, the Melvins would be long gone. Instead the band is still pushing the boundaries with albums such as last year’s “The Bride Screamed Murder’’ and the live album “Sugar Daddy,’’ which came out Tuesday and is a snapshot of the Melvins’ tour in support of 2008’s “Nude With Boots’’ record.
“It’s still exciting that we’re coming up with new stuff,’’ Crover said. “It’s easy working with Buzz, but he challenges me. He thinks about the drum stuff as much as he does the guitar stuff. He’ll say, ‘We’ve got to make this different. How would you play it without cymbals?’ Or if it’s a metal song, he’ll say, ‘How would Gang of Four play this?’ We’ll never be like Metallica in ‘Some Kind of Monster,’ fighting and arguing while working on songs.’’
While the Melvins’ music comes across as chaotic, Osborne assured that the records and tours are in fact labored over. Yet the band isn’t calculating.
“I’ve always operated like I’d be out of business in six months,’’ Osborne said. “I never did anything crazy, like buy a big house or a bunch of cars. I’m not into that nonsense. I just make music that’s interesting to me.’’
Scott McLennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.