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Concert: Melvins in San Francisco

The Melvins were in San Francisco on Thursday (4/12) for the second show of a month-long tour in support of "The Bulls and the Bees" EP.

The Melvins were in San Francisco on Thursday (4/12) for the second show of a month-long tour in support of "The Bulls and the Bees" EP.

It had been Melvins weather all day in the City by the Bay: concrete-colored skies, sudden gusts of wind, and lingering dampness that finally erupted into vicious rain and thunderclaps just after the doors of the Great American Music Hall opened as suddenly-soaked fans huddled outside trying to score tickets to the sold-out event while not being struck by lightning.

Veteran New York City noise-rock trio Unsane kicked things off with a wall of organized chaos that started off heavy and stayed that way, complementing the Melvins' style nicely. Vocalist/guitarist Chris Spencer said hello to the crowd sometime during the second number with a rich gob of spit that soaked lucky members of the front row; saliva mixed with flop-sweat as Spencer head-banged through the rest of the set. Unsane's drummer is apparently dealing with medical issues, so the two Melvin drummers, Cody Willis and Dale Crover, each sat in for half the set, and then played jointly for the opening act's finale.

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During the intermission it was possible to talk with some of the fans who had staked out front-row spots flush up against the stage. (One guy came all the way from Portland, OR to see the show because, surprisingly, Melvins--the pride of Montesano, WA -- have no northwest dates scheduled for this tour). These front-row aficianados were gentle souls devoted to a band (Melvins) that have albums older than they are. And why, I asked them. Because the Melvins are true musicians who play only what they feel and have done so for 30 years without ever worrying about record labels or radio-friendly singles.

Behind this front row of idealists was a gratuitously violent moshpit of heshers who looked like they got there after taking a wrong turn to a Ted Nugent concert and seemed intent on using their $21 show tickets to pretend they're in the Fight Club and work out some issues. Oh well. That's the rock-and-roll bargain. The good and bad all in it together, cheek to jowl.

The Melvins will be returning to their "Lite" line-up later this summer, consisting of a drummer, bassist and a guitar. But this tour features the Melvins' heavy lineup: bass, guitar, and two full drum kits all lined up in a row across the front of the Great American's modest stage.

Guitarist Buzz Osborne emerged in his druid-themed caftan and trademark hair, playing a plexiglass guitar. Drummers Crover and Willis wore headset mics from which no vocals could be heard. Bassist Jared Warren played a good part of the set standing on top of his amplifier cabinet.

"The Water Glass," the lead track off 2010's "The Bride Screamed Murder," came early in the set. Featuring distinctive call-and-response style drill-sergeant vocals, this was the perfect song to showcase the Melvins' two-drummer lineup with its military cadences that required precision stick work from more than two hands.

It's hard to describe a Melvins set with words because it's something you feel rather than listen to. The sound raged from face melting to thorax shaking to pacemaker stopping. It was like being strapped to a jet engine that repeatedly gains altitude, breaks the sound barrier, then freefalls.

The time signatures involved a lot of prime numbers (7, 11, 13) and shredded guitar picks. The twin drum kits sustained the kind of beating that would turn Stonehenge into a sandbox. After the show it took hours for my face and body to fully decompress. I consider myself lucky that the Melvins didn't give me the bends. --View Slideshow


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