Melvins Lite perform at the Black Cat

A stripped down version of Melvins, Melvins Lite play at the Black Cat in Washington DC.

WASHINGTON, October 30, 2012 —At this point in time, it’s hard to imagine Buzz Osbourne doing anything but playing guitar and conjuring up some vague idea of punk and metal. In a more specific context, it’s impossible to imagine a time when Osbourne won’t be playing in a Melvins-centric band.

Here’s why.

With half the current Melvin—Jarred Warren and Coady Willis—now touring as Big Business, Osbourne and longtime drummer Dale Crover took bass player Trevor Dunn (most notably part of avant-garde rock act Mr. Bungle) on the road. This is basically the genesis of Melvins Lite, which eventually resulted in their show at the Black Cat Sunday night. For a band, or rather a portion of a band, that’s pushing nearly 30 years in the biz, it’s a great sight to see them remaining as eccentric and heavy as they’ve always been.

The Melvins officially formed in 1985 in Aberdeen, Washington. Fans of fairly recent history will recall the area as one primary places connected with what eventually became Grunge in the ‘90s.  The Melvins have been influential across the board. But they are mainly credited at this point for their influence on and connection with Nirvana, and how they, somewhat unintentionally, helped shaped one of the more popular genres of the ‘90s—one that yet remains a cultural touchstone for post-Boomer generations.

They’ve benefitted from this connection for sure, but not in a way that’s resulted in massive mainstream appeal. Instead, they seem better known as an oddity or a cultural footnote rather than anything more important. Fortunately, this seems to suit the band just fine. Despite being relatively well-recognized, even today, they’ve never been crushed under the pressure of mass stardom, enabling them to outlive so many bands that they have now branched off from their original musical tree.

Part of the reason why is that Osbourne and Crover have always stayed true to themselves musically. That is to say, they’re constantly out of step with whatever happens to be popular in heavy music at any given time. When they started in the ‘80s, most of their contemporaries were playing faster and faster in what seemed like a heavy metal drag race. But the Melvins instead became one of the original sludge metal bands. As the years have passed, they just got denser – even adding the second drummer – and began making overwhelmingly harder, heavier, and massively drawn out presentations.

That isn’t necessarily the case when they bring out their new Melvins Lite line-up, however. At the heart of Buzz Osbourne aesthetic lies the original punk ideology, at least to a certain extent.   Instead of the thick, molasses-like sound they usually perform, this incarnation plays a more stripped-down and at times a speeded up version of original Melvins everyone came to know.  Trevor Dunn helps considerably in this musical shift. Playing stand-up bass for the entire show doesn’t really lend itself to the original Melvins’ murky sound. Instead, Dunn’s approach just begs for the pace to be picked up at almost every opportunity.

The important thing to always remember is that the Melvins, whether they’re Lite or otherwise, never quite do what people expect them to do. This doesn’t mean they’ll turn a 180 on audience expectations. It does mean that they add enough quirks to each performance that it keeps the footing for their audience highly unstable.

For instance, opening up their recent set with dissonant noise thrown off by a song lasting for the first five to eight minutes of the show is a totally Melvins thing to do. But it’s the last thing most people expect from any set.  This became even more jarring Sunday when they picked up the pace quickly thereafter, in seeming contradiction of their initial sonic set-up.

That’s the Melvins though, and more specifically Buzz Osbourne. The Melvins have always had a reputation of toying with their audience to a certain degree. But in the end, it’s ultimately the kicks and surprises the audience needs to fully embrace and enjoy the Melvins, even when it’s  Melvins Lite.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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