By Mike Sembos
10:35 AM PDT, September 25, 2012
The Melvins Lite
Wed., Oct. 3, 9 p.m. Toad's Place, 300 York St., New Haven. (203) 624-8623, toadsplace.com. $18, $15/advance. with Tweak Bird.
There's nothing "lite" about the Melvins Lite lineup playing at Toad's Place this Wednesday night. It's a trio version of the band, with a touch less sonic aggression than the two-drummer assault that's been the norm for the group in recent years, but it's still going to blow most, if not all, of your face off. And maybe your eardrums too.
This year has seen the release of three Melvins albums, each utilizing a different lineup: the Melvins, the Melvins Lite and Melvins 1983 (which features original drummer Mike Dillard). Yes, the Melvins formed in 1983 and are about to be 30 years old, as a band. The Melvins Lite album Freak Puke is the focus of the tour, but they're all part of the same project. For an extra promotional boost, frontman Buzz Osborne, a.k.a. King Buzzo, came up with the idea to play 51 shows in 51 days. That's a show in every U.S. state, and one in Washington D.C. too.
"We've done 15 shows in a row as of last night," says Osborne from the road, between shows in Minneapolis and Madison. "So far so good. Nobody's dead. That's quite a feat on its own. Most bands don't do over two straight weeks of shows. No way. We're not a bunch of pussies though. I think we'll be fine. I mean, I guess I could break my neck. Or I could die."
King Buzzo is 48 years old now, but nothing about the way he carries himself or his musical output suggest he's stereotypically middle-aged or slowing down in any way.
"We're selling this Freak Puke record, but it's getting harder and harder to sell records," he says. "But it's understandable. Just do the best you can. It's all you can do."
The Melvins' 15 minutes of fame came soon after Nirvana became the biggest band in the world and Kurt Cobain spread their name to the masses, along with Nirvana's own take on the sludgy Pacific Northwestern sound that the Melvins helped invent. (Osborne also played in Cobain's first-ever band, Fecal Matter, in 1986.) The Melvins put out three albums on Atlantic when label execs scrambled to sign anything connected to Nirvana in the early '90s, but the music was just too weird to catch on with the mainstream. And they've continued to be just as weird ever since.
Freak Puke contains some upright bass action from Trevor Dunn (he also plays with Osborne and Mike Patton in Fantomas), a Paul McCartney cover ("Let Me Roll It") and the usual screaming distorted guitars you'd expect from Buzzo. He now strums exclusively aluminum or plexiglass guitars.
"I think they play better and I dig the way they sound," he says. "I like the way they feel. I've used the same guitars for a long time, and it's nice to have a change. There's really nothing more to it than that. I use a distortion box, a delay and a little bit of compression live, but that's it. In the studio, anything goes really. I couldn't even give you a list of things I used in the studio, I have no idea. Whatever's there, whatever sounds good. You just try to use a bunch of different things to get a wide variety of interesting sounds, whatever they may be. I try not to worry about it too much."
Osborne is the kind of guy whose brain you've just got to pick about new music. In the van, the band has been listening to lots of classic stuff like Judy Garland (mainly Judy at Carnegie Hall) and Jimi Hendrix, but new sounds continue to spark interest.
"I find new music same way I always did," Osborne says. "Just having someone turn me on to it. That's the main way, you know. I don't read magazines or anything. I never did though. I like the same amount of bands I always did — not many. We're touring with this band Tweak Bird. I think they're the best band from L.A. by far, if not one of the better bands in the country. We've played some shows with that band Gay Witch Abortion that we're into. And obviously we like Big Business a lot [featuring the Melvins rhythm section Jarred Warren and Cody Willis] and, so there's three, right there, that we dig.
Osborne recalls playing a show in New London a while back and having an interesting fan encounter.
"I got yelled at by a goth chick," he says. "Generally I like goths, but she was not having my bullshit, which doesn't surprise me."
To see how well the band has aged and evolved, come to Toad's place on Wednesday night, and bring your earplugs just in case. Sometimes the legends still do play there.
"We'd like to have a blast playing New Haven," says Osborne. " It's a fun place to play. We're happy to have Toad's be part of this big tour."