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Butlins Heavy, Pt. II

14 Dec

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Continuing on from my last post, I’m back to let you know who I thank and/or curse for ruining a little bit more of my precious hearing this past weekend at ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas 2008. Off we go:

1) THE MELVINS 2008 – Just the best established heavy band on the planet today, period. And I got to see em play twice. While they may not have been the first punkers to get heavy, their endless explorations and permutations of the concept over the past 2+ decades continually blow minds wherever they are heard. Who else would be confident enough to adopt a new rhythm section – the BIG BUSINESS guys – who, on a good night, are capable of upstaging the original members 6 ways to Sunday? Only crazy Buzzo and Dale.

Live, THE MELVINS played most of their amazing new Nude With Boots CD, surely in my top 10 for this year and the best reimagination of LED ZEPPELIN I’ve heard in a decade. Buzzo’s always a commanding presence whether playing rhythm gtr, pealing vicious leads, or growling cryptic lyrics; Jared looked and played bass like Davey Crocket might’ve skinning a coon; and the masterfully tandem drumming of Coady and Dale linked songs into seamless chains and/or destroyed entire sections of the audience on a whim. It was glorious.

They ended the first set with a defiantly in-your-face a cappella(!) version of “The Star Spangled Banner” which, after the election and this kinda gig, gave us American ex-pats permission to again stand proud. On the second night they played completely insane versions of “My Generation” and “Boris the Spider” with Jared mumbling and crawling arachnid-like through the audience. Nuts! All this was capped off by Jared & Buzzo singing Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” which got me pondering just what other kinda ugly ornery beauty has helped shape the contorted wonder that is THE MELVINS.

2) ISIS – The RADIOHEAD of black metal, ISIS is a big deal these days and for no apparent reason. Fans talk of “climatic, shifting dynamics” and “cinematic tension and release” but all I hear is a bunch of control freaks trying desperately to flatten everything out into one smooth, highly-polished aural pancake. It was not only boring but maddening trying to figure out what the damn appeal is. They can’t write songs (any more than 1 or 2 chords would ruin the gloss), there are no distinctive players or voices (although one of em did chime like U2’s The Edge), and the deadly seriousness with which they approach the whole thing gets me thinking these dweebs need to away from their Playstations a bit more frequently. Hopefully ISIS stuck around to get schooled by the some of older acts over the weekend.

3) MASTODON – Wunderkinder in the latest phase of heavy, MASTODON hit incredibly hard and physically powerfully like HIGH ON FIRE accompanying NEUROSIS on a flaming chariot into cosmic battle. Unlike ISIS, these southern boys took some real chances: gtrist Bill Kelliher was sidelined by illness and so they went ahead and played as a 3-piece. Without the dual gtr harmonies, the THIN LIZZY influences exhibited on their records were largely absent, and the sound was left wide open to shed light on individual playing.

Singer/gtrist Brent Hinds played relentless, ever shifting circles of notes that worshipped at the feet of John McLaughlin, drummer Brann Dailor used distinctly jazzy flourishes to color what otherwise might’ve been straight thrash playing, and Troy Sanders filled the substantial space between with monolithic bass chords and his wispy beard. While their sound may have been forged by gods, it was hammered by fellas who obviously engaged life in human terms. We were impressed, lemme tell ya – and their cover of THE MELVINS “The Bit” (with ample help from Buzzo, Dale, and Coady) reminded everyone just who carried that hammer to Earth first.

4) THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS – Only caught about half their set, but I’ll make a stab anyway: Gibby was as misanthropic, self-obsessed, and offputting as I remember him from the Locus Abortion Technician tour in ’87. I don’t care what Johnny Depp says, he’s a liability to the human race. But that don’t mean his band (esp. pinhead Paul Leary) aren’t still totally hot – they are, and have a uniquely skewed pop sensibility that spits out great songs as often as Gibby hollars abuse at the audience. Not sure what their confrontative abjection of yore is suppose to mean in 2008, but hopefully they’ll train their freak on new and wondrous musical activities in the near future.

5) THE LOCUST – Again only caught some of these guys, but they buzzed and freaked hella loudly around the periphery of my vision and hearing long after they’d left the stage. How does one describe the extremities trod here . . . Unitarded grindcore? Pigfuck electro-thrash? Powerviolent nerdprog? Mike Patton most definitely invited these guys, and for once I’m glad he did – so long as somebody made sure they reboarded their spaceship promptly afterward.

6) THE DAMNED – They started with alotta strikes against them: the sonics and lighting were very awkward, the keyboardist wasn’t plugged in for the first few songs, and the audience already pretty beat from the day’s hard rocking. Their challenge: how to follow a brain-crushing MELVINS set and win over a crowd of tired, heavy-loving longhairs with a sound that’s basically revved up, 60’s inspired party pop-rock. It wasn’t a match made in heaven, and alot of people didn’t understand what all the hubbub was about. But me, I watched keenly, moved in closer, smiled widely, and bounced evermore frantically through a rip-roaring set that included among others “Fan Club”, “Love Song”, “Dozien Girls”, “Under the Floor Again”, “Alone Again Or” and a gnarly take on “Smash It Up”.

Dave Vanian – once again sporting ghoul makeup – sang with a voice that gets stronger with every year you haven’t bothered listening. He’s now as clear and confident as a late 60’s Scott Walker, only he doesn’t forget how to laugh when he gets intense. Captain Sensible can’t move his neck too much these days but his licks were as wild, raw, and exciting as contenders half his age – his underappreciated talents still have the power to make the night skies burn with mystery and joy. Septuagenarian keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron both grounded and colored the songs when he wasn’t showing us how he pogoed back in ’76. The rhythm section was less distinctive (Rat Scabies left some big shoes to fill) but still solid and able. Best of all the great new material – harkening back to Strawberries-era glories – had me searching vainly through the merch area for their just-released, killer So, Who’s Paranoid? CD.

Yep silly ol’ Captain got naked and mooned the audience at the end (go YouTube it), but that doesn’t change anything. THE DAMNED remain a totally vital rock n roll act into their 4th decade. Plus: they were the only band I heard who actually thanked THE MELVINS for the invite to play! We at PS Recon thank em too.

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Thanks to Nathan Wind as Cochise for the awesome photo of Buzzo

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