Napalm Death / Melvins / Melt Banana - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Napalm Death / Melvins / Melt Banana

Live in Philadelphia (2016)

live show

Despite the fairly different backgrounds of the bands on the bill, Philly’s Melt Banana/Melvins/Napalm death show had a conceptual connection. While the bands each come from a different third of the map, each band has spent over twenty years making weird, avant-garde, heavy as hell music.

The night opened with Melt Banana blasting out 40 minutes of chaotic synth-metal. Duo Yasuko Onuki and Ichiro Agata played hyperfast, hyper spastic songs that reveled in spazziness. Supported by a frantic synth backing that chirped and screamed and rumbled, Agata twisted out jagged guitar lines while Onuki snapped around the stage, screaming and waving a flashing sound effect controller. But, while the music was set to an ADD personality, there was a true craftsmanship that shined through. This wasn’t crazy music for the sake of crazy music, this was a purposeful positioning of discordant sounds so that they ceased to be discordant, but became a serious of euphonious notes. That’s no easy feat, but the band made the argument that composition and musicianship lay not in the 4/4 time structure, but far outside that realm, and their frantic live show proved that distinctively.

After a short break, the Melvins took the stage and with nary a word, rolled into their classic room-shaker, “Eyes Flys.” The Melvins have always reveled in the slow and heavy, but during their gargantuan opening track- which was slow and heavy, mind you- the band seemed to have a crackling energy underneath. The mighty Sleep proved that there is merit in slooooooooooow, lacoooooooonic delivery, but in Philly, the Melvins somehow pulled the trick of showing that song can be slow, but charged with a primal sort of energy.

Over the past five years or so, the Melvins have been bringing a different third gun with them on the road. This tour featured early LA punk/garage rocker Stephen McDonald of Redd Kross and OFF!. While the pairing might not be the most obvious choice, it was a wise play by the group. Perhaps the most fun thing about Melvins shows is that each tour is radically different, finding the band with unique setlists. But, not only does the setlist change radically fro tour to tour, but so does song arrangement, thanks to the annual wildcard.

McDonald comes from a background that is both energetic and poppy, and he brought that style to the Melvins set. Throughout the night, the band focused on their rippers. Neo-classic “Kicking Machine” rocked like the Zeppelin, but with McDonald on bass, the song had springiness that suggested perhaps just a hint of Cheap Trick. Likewise, when the band rolled into a cover of Kiss’ “Deuce” early on, all three members were nodding to their influence while simultaneously how they took different tools from said influence- The Melvs having taken the sheer power of rock from Gene while McDonald having taken a sort of glam sheen from Paul. (The Kiss homage shirts worn by McDonald and drummer Dale Crover were a nice touch, too.)

Of Course, guitarist and vocalist Buzz Osborne was in fine form. Buzz has continually asserted that he doesn’t want to become a vintage act, so the set focused on newer tunes like “Seasame Street Meat,” “National Hamster,” and “”Onions Make the Milk Taste Bad.” All three songs showed that as Osborne approaches his fourth decade, he still loves the classic style of the instrument while striving to find new tricks in those five old strings. During the show, he found them. Similarly, rock, especially punk rock, is usually touted as a young man’s game. But, I think back to when I saw BB King in his later years and it was clear that the years had only brought more power to fingers. BB in the early 2000’s was one baaaad man. Now, Osborne, at a spry 52 certainly isn’t “old,” but he’s no spring chicken, either. That’s to his benefit as the Philly show proved- he’s one baaaaaaaaaaaad man.

Likewise, Melvins consigliore, and renown artist, Brian Walsby has stated that Dale Crover is better than he’s ever been. The fact is, that’s the truth. As Crover smashed out the military beats of “The Water Glass,” the room shook. Crover has both power and precision. Sometimes he uses them simultaneously, and sometimes, he let’s one impulse take the reigns. There are few drummers that can juggle both skill and soul, but not only did Crover do just that in Philly, he did it so well you didn’t realize that’s what he’s doing. Melvins songs often sound like freight trains and Crover is a champion conductor.

As a side note, the band played brand new song “Decay of Lying.” Jesus must have heard my prayers and told the Melvins to write a song in the style of Warrior on the Edge of Time era Hawkwind. Thank you, Big J.

The band finished their set with their classic cover of Cooper’s “Second Coming” and “Halo of Flies.” It was an unexpected end to a set filled with unexpected tricks. This is how a band makes some of their most exciting music in their 33 year- keep us on our toes!

The night ended with avant-metal titans Napalm Death. On a sort of victory lap following the release of their excellent Apex Predator – Easy Meat album, the band took the stage to that LP’s marvelously ominous intro before launching into their first track. The band focused on the new release and with good cause. What people tend to forget is that Napalm Death was birthed in the early UK Anarcho-punk scene. While their lineup and style has changed drastically over the decades, their focus on political issues has never waned.

With songs like “Dear Slum Landlord” and “Smash a single Digit” cornerstones of the performance, that perspective was still the key focus. Nicely, old-oldie “Scum” was brought out in a modern form and the band drew the massive riff and rhythm from that tunderbolt. Likewise, classic Dead Kennedys cover ”Nazi Punks” was given a spin too, further showing the band’s punk connections.

If you’ve ever seen Spinal Tap, Heavy Metal Parking Lot, or, hell, even Some Kind of Monster metal guys are usually portrayed as boneheaded Neanderthals, or in the case of Monster, boneheaded crybabies. Perhaps Napalm Death’s greatest service is to prove that not only can extreme music rise above its unfortunate stereotypes, but also that they prove that super heavy, super hard, super nasty metal is among the most intelligent of all music forms. Bruce might say a thing or two about “the man” before launching into a 15 minute jam about the beach, but Napalm Death, a the Philly show, busted the chops of the renter-landlord system. Now that's punk! It's metal, too, but it's also punk.