With James Brown abdicating the title through his demise, the Melvins have assumed the title of the hardest working band in showbiz. Although Brown only released the title after rigor mortis had done its unenviable deed, the sludge quartet have been able to wrest it from his fingers by playing six shows in San Francisco over the course of one year, each with a wildly different set list. On May 17, 2011, the close of the Melvins' two-day residency at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, drummer Dale Crover, echoing Charlemagne's self-ascension, rose from his kit and in a mixture of furor and distorted vocals proclaimed the group's actuality.
The concept for the recent Endless Residency Tour began in early 2011, where the Melvins played four shows across the course of a month at L.A.'s Club Spaceland. At those dates, the band opened with a normal-ish set and then proceeded to play an entire album. Because the shows were so warmly greeted, the band decided to take a version of the residency on the road in a typically self-contradictory Melvins fashion. Over the course of two days, the group played Lysol, Egg Nog, Houdini, Bullhead and Stoner Witch in full at the Great American Music Hall.
Day 1 opened with an extended low rumble that seemed to undulate. As the the downtrend sonic current seem to last forever, it gradually got louder and louder until the band broke into Lysol. Much in the same manner as the album, the Melvins left no breaks in between the songs, and played the album as a single unified piece, not addressing the audience as much as simply playing while they were there.
The group's lineup, which includes Jared Warren and Coady Willis, who were not on the original recording, used the original work more of a suggestion than a blueprint. Songs were played out of order, slowed down or sped up, and new parts–namely extended guitar jams or drum solos–were added. Notably, now that the group has two drummers, the energy of the band is higher than previous incarnations. While Lysol was still played with an earthquake-like ethos, the band seems to pull the songs forward with heavy downstrokes, whereas the album version seem to roll forward on its own accord.
Interestingly, while the band seems to be the most cohesive it ever has been, the playing styles of Melvins mastermind Buzz Osborne and bassist Warren differ. Where Osborne seems to constantly be in motion, torso whipped down and up by the licks of his guitar, Warren seems to hold fast to an area, channeling the music into the ground. The differences in style made it evident how slow and heavy manifests itself in profoundly different ways.
Likewise, drummers Dale Crover and Coady Willis seemed to feed off each other's energy. Generally, Crover used his massive arms to deliver the Melvins' trademark crushing stomp. Meanwhile, Willis seemed to supplement the crunch as well as add ornate work in between the thwomps and back up the heavy blows with something of a snappier attack.
After a break, the band returned to the stage with their live rendition of Houdini. Although the band previously recorded a live version of the record, the new four-piece increased the album's urgency and barreled through the piece in about 3/4 time of its studio counterpart, including their new guitar freakout and drum battle interludes.
In contrast to the rolling rumble of the first night's intro, the second night opened with the slued classic Bullhead, in which the band dove headfirst into the album's pure volume of lumbering mass. Again, the band mashed the tracks together and presented the piece as a unified statement.
Finally, for the residency's last set, the band took to Stoner Witch, which featured the most bizarre intro of all the albums. Taking the lead, Warren, a six-foot plus, afro-ed, burly beast of a man whispered creepily in a child's voice into the mic, echoing Whimpy, endlessly repeating "I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." There are few things creepier than a grown man talking in a baby's voice. Unlike their earlier treatments, the band extended Stoner Witch and added a great deal of improvisation, as noticeable by the frequent non-verbal communication between Osborne and the rest of the band.
At the end, Osborne left the stage while the group's other three members continued to jam to a rumbling cadence and pick up speed. As the speed increased, an unidentified drummer came on stage and took Crover's seat while Crover proceeded to play the front of both sets of drums while Willis and the new drummer continued to pick up speed from behind the kits.
Eventually, Crover broke from the rhythm and as the two sitting drummers continued to pound away, Crover seemed to go into an almost feral state, wildly thrashing at any percussion within his reach.
Finally, he abandoned the drums altogether and grabbed the mic formally used by Osborne. But, by that point, the volume of the show had reached an almost white noise, and his repeated shouts, which may have been "Thank you" or "Onwards!" were conveyed merely as "Awawarrggg!" He continued howling into the microphone hurling his shoulder forward, striking his fist into the heavens with each syllable. Between Crover's barbarian tunic, his hulking frame, and his battlefield gesticulation, Rome was lucky to have fallen 1700 years ago, for surely, if it was still standing, the sheer volume and power of the band could have torn down the city in...two days.
Celebrity Watcher: Punk icon Jello Biafra was seen watching the show from the side stage with his usual contemplative visage. Pop artist Junko Mizuno was spotted checking out the new Melvins 7" while Amphetamine Reptile founder, Tom Hazelmyer was behind the merch table. And of course, Yours Truly was up front and center, blabbering to anyone within earshot about music, at least until the mosh-pit-hiney-squeeze got to be too much, at which point I retreated to the back of the auditorium.