Ghoulish metal mavens the Melvins and Altamont shake the rafters of the Brick Works
The evening got off to auspicious beginning when I ran into a good-humored Buzz Osborne unloading a milk crate of stage matter from the back of his modest touring van. Smiling beneath his incredible explosion of graying frizz, King Buzzo expressed not a whiff of concern that minutes after the announced door time there wasn’t a soul on the sidewalk besides ourselves and only about a half-dozen or so inside.
“We sold a few tickets,” he said nonchalantly, reaching into the van to pet a cute little dog curled up in the front seat. Finding out that the purveyor of some of the heaviest, most dour music ever committed to recording tape or loudspeaker is a good-natured guy who travels with a pet on board was sort of heartwarming.
Inside, things were warming up, too. Spike Jones was careening through “You Always Hurt the One You Love” on the house PA, and it was such a weird and appropriate set-up for a night of perfectly controlled musical mayhem that I could hardly wait for the bands to get started.
Which didn’t take long. Melvins drummer Dale Crover’s side project, Altamont, came on in a whirlwind of guitar feedback and drum rolls as a crowd materialized in front of the stage. Crover plays guitar in a heavy, riff-rock manner, ably backed by bassist Dan Southwick and drummer Joey Osbourne. Using plenty of feedback, wah-wah pedal and lead guitar breaks accented by polyrhythmic tom-tom patterns and waves of oceanic cymbal bashing, Altamont generates a vibe that perfectly complements the Melvins’ sound without copying it.
Making the symbiotic nature of the two bands manifest was the between-sets transition. As Altamont brought its portion of the show to an end in the midst of an elephantine stomp garnished with descending flights of screaming butterfly treble sonics, Melvins bassist Kevin Rutamanis (ex-Cows) snaked his way onto the stage in a pink-heart-appliquéd gown, plugged in his metalflake gold instrument and took over the bottom end as secondary guitarist Adam Jones (on loan from avant-metal darlings Tool) took up his position on the right of the stage and began generating a train wreck of guitar noise loud and strong enough to tip over a herd of cows.
Stowing his guitar between amps, Crover seamlessly assumed the drum throne, and he and Rutamanis began laying down a mid-tempo groove that gave full voice to the power and precision of the rhythm section. Once that was established, Osborne entered on a wave of ecstatic applause wearing a black tunic blazoned with a red, medieval cross, plugged in his trusty Les Paul guitar and elevated the proceedings to a whole new level of musicality.
The Melvins’ achievement is to meld the Dionysian and Apollonian aspects of music in a howling sea of distressed electrons, overdriven speakers and relentless percussion; a fusion of muscle and brain power that defines “heavy metal” in the best possible terms. And, despite the assaultive nature of the volume levels employed, there are structures of incredible beauty and fluid grace built into the songs. Unlike the group’s concert of last May, which reminded me of an athletic event with its display of blazing speed and complexity, this night’s show seemed dedicated to the intricacies of slowly unfolding chord progressions and spacious rhythm patterns.
Exploring dynamics that ranged from colossal, melodically sweet blues to intense noise-rock space jams, the Melvins at their finest push intensity to the point of full, cataclysmic release, a unique sonic catharsis you won’t find anywhere but at a Melvins show.
Gird your eardrums, tighten your brainbox and sally forth into the fray the next time Buzz and the boys bring their dog to town.