Live Review: Melvins – Birmingham

melvins / Ipecac recordings

Live Review: Melvins - Birmingham
5th June 2023
Support: Taipei Houston
Words: Matt Noble

The night is opened by San Francisco’s Taipei Houston, a bass/drums twopiece of brothers. Both are sons of Lars Ulrich, who was in another famous band - though there's no mention of that at all, with the band playing a fuzzy, scuzzy and suitably weird brand of alternative rock for a night supporting the Melvins. The drumming from Myles is brilliant, with off-kilter rhythms and interesting patterns powering the performance, while younger brother Layne boasts a thunderous bass tone and garagey rock n' roll vocals somewhere between a soft falsetto croon and a punk snarl.

It's a fun, primal performance, and Layne has a real knack of engaging his crowd, who are mostly completely unfamiliar with them. Set highlights include the punchy 'Susie Thin Lips', the heavy 'Hypocrite', and set closer 'Drop Song', with bowel-shakingly low bass frequencies causing a good few to contort their faces in appreciation. Fans of the weirder, quirkier side of grunge should give them a go.

Competing with KISS, who are playing down the road in Birmingham that same night, it's testament to the unshakable legacy of the Melvins that they manage to pack out the second room of the Institute on a Monday night. Alt rockers talk about Nirvana and Soundgarden as important, influential bands, in the same way that the likes of Neurosis, Sleep and Eyehategod are often mentioned in the doom, stoner and sludge conversation. It seems in this regard that the Melvins go largely under the radar by many - and actually came first, influencing all of the above. 40 years on from the formation of the Melvins, they're here tonight, full of life, presence, killer riffs and unchanging importance in the heavy rock scene. I'll never forget my first time seeing the Melvins seven or so years ago - it was probably the loudest thing I'd ever heard at the time!

Swaggering onstage to 'Take on Me', bassist Steven is all smiles as the feedback begins to rumble and Dale Crover kicks off with a brilliant drum solo. 'Snake Appeal' opens proceedings before the first pit of the night gets going during 'Zodiac'. Their tempo-bending cover of The Beatles' 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' garners a good reaction, and the grinding 'Never Say You're Sorry' also does well. Dale's drum fills over 'Evil New War God' are absolutely astonishing. The word 'underrated' can only be used so many times with this band. I'll try to stop.

Buzz and Steven look the part with their flamboyant outfits, unashamedly weird in both musical and aesthetic terms. Their triple vocal harmonies with Dale are excellent and reinforces how much sonic power goes into their live performances. I also really admire how the music never stops in a Melvins performance. Dale faithfully takes over and fills with drums when the other two are changing their tuning, or feedback will ring between songs to give him a (much deserved!) breather. It means that when there is silence, such as at the very end of the main set, its presence can really be felt in the room a lot more compared to a typical rock or metal performance. They've got it all - dirty chugs, stoner grooves, killer vocals, crushing tones, whacky rhythms played to precision - you name it.

I've never seen Birmingham move so rapidly and suddenly on a Monday night as tonight's crowd did when the first notes of 'A History of Bad Men' rang out. The atmosphere really went up a gear and remained at that level for the rest of the set, with bigger singalongs, rowdier pits, and uncomfortably warm temperatures near the front. Followed by a closing triumvirate of pure stone cold classics - that's 'Revolve', 'Honey Bucket' and 'Night Goat' - the room was electrifying, and The Melvins delivered appropriately. Joking that after 40 years, they were finally deserving of an encore, a stunningly heavy rendition of 'Boris' closed out the evening.

With the guitars tuned down to A, there was a warm sense of imperfection to the way it was played, with the loose bottom strings virtually flapping about as they were attacked by Buzz and Steven. Super-pristine polish has never been the way of The Melvins, though. When Buzz is left to close out the song by himself, his control of dynamics and emotion is absolutely masterful. This, conversely, is what's perfect about The Melvins. During his quieter parts, you can virtually hear a pin drop between chugs. It's an incredibly potent epilogue to the night and it feels like all the volume is sucked out of the room when the main lights go back on.

The Melvins have been copied by countless and emulated by barely any. Tonight reminded us why.

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