Buzz Osborne, Dale Crover and Steve McDonald will not care about this review. They don’t have to. As more than 400 Detroiters swayed in unison at El Club like one living, breathing organism, it became clear that this was not simply a concert. It was a glorious demonstration of respect and heavy-metal camaraderie. For the Melvins, what could any reviewer possibly say that would take away from that moment?
As the band began to pour a career-spanning bucket of sludge over the packed crowd, beginning with 1989’s “Oven,” it became clear just how fortunate we are to live in the same era as the Melvins. Three veteran musicians who are tighter than your pants on Thanksgiving are the type of live band you want to see in a small venue. Everyone loves to say that they saw this band or that band when they were playing the club circuit because stories of humble beginnings humanize our heroes. But when a band that’s arguably one of the most influential groups since the Velvet Underground remains committed to playing rooms like El Club, it’s clear that the Melvins are about more than a ticket price or a sold-out stadium show.
Almost every audience member understood this. At one point, midway through the set, I counted exactly two cellphones in the air. Four-hundred people in Mexicantown were in the moment, hanging on Osborne’s every riff. There were more people on their partners’ shoulders than phones in the air, giving these monstrous sounds their undivided attention without the need for fancy phone pouches. This is the stuff most bands dream of.
The songs that drew the biggest reactions from the crowd were “Hooch” and “Honey Bucket” from 1993 major-label debut Houdini. As the stabbing, staccato riff of “Honey Bucket” was launched into the audience, the already sizable cyclone of a mosh pit in front of the stage doubled in size. And while the trio steered the song into its steady, in-the-pocket groove, the pit threatened to swallow the entire crowd whole.
The cherry on top was the last song of the night, “Ballad Of Dwight Fry,” by Detroit’s own Alice Cooper. The track has a long, storied history with the Melvins, as most of their covers do. And, like all of them, this one was thick as mud. An apropos tribute to one of Motor City’s often-overlooked offerings to the mythology of rock ’n’ roll.
Who knows when or where Detroit will next succumb to the crushing weight of the Melvins’ guitar, bass and drums? But whenever that time comes, I’ll see you in the pit.
—Jacob Paul Nielsen; photos by Via Mardot