Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 2 - May 18, 2007
Waiting in line outside the Colisée, it became immediately evident that Melvins were attracting a different audience. The average age dropped by at least fifteen years, and a level of excitement suggesting this band of twenty years duration (as opposed to a band made up of twenty-year-olds) was, at the very least, worth checking out.
Walking into the venue was further evidence that something different was coming. Contrasting with the usual table and chairs seating, the hall (with the exception of some bleacher seating at the back) was set up for standing only, a veritable ravefest configuration. The lighting was more extensive, and two drum kits largely dominated the stage. The room continued to fill right up to show timethe largest attendance for an event so far, rivaling even Sonic Youth front man Thurston Moore's Dream Aktion Unit performance in 2005.
When FIMAV's Michel Levasseur introduced the band, the crowd went wildbut still was made to wait for the group to appear on stage. With stark purple lighting swirling around the stage and bathing the audience, over five minutes of programmed noise unmistakably linked this performance to the electronic experiments of earlier in the day (of course this was all about preplanning). With an air of spectacle, the first to appear on stage were the group's two power drummers, hulking their individual paths to their respective kits like two Hunchbacks of Notre Dame. Dale Crover and newcomer Coady Willis (who, along with bassist/ vocalist Jarred Warren come from the hardcore band Big Business) launched into a choreographed and repetitive primal rhythm that slowly built in intensity over the harsh electronics still filling the room, ultimately dominating and setting the stage for the appearance of Warren and guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne.
Buzz Osborne, Coady Willis, Dale Crover, Jarred Warren
The sound of Melvins' music? Think Black Sabbath but ratcheted up about ten notches and, at times, even more dirge-like. The visceral punch of Osborne's guitar and the plodding pace of the opening tune were enough to make the audience's ears bleed. But inside the metal veneer is a group that's more adventurous than it might seem. It's not a total stretch to hear a group like this cover Alice Cooper, but when it covered Merle Haggard...that was something completely different. Osborne's larger than imaginable sound and Warren's often fuzz-toned bass created a deep, dense foundation, and while Osborne rarely soloed, the spots where he did it were more primal invention than overt flash.
The group's recent expansion to a twin-drummer lineup was an inspired move. Aside from the added power, the arrangements focused plenty of attention on Crover and Willis, who played in staggeringly taut unison but also worked through arrangements almost orchestrally Wagnerian in scope.
Melvins' uninterrupted set also demonstrated the importance of continuity, set structure and seamless movement from one song to the next. Osborne and Warren often sang unison, but harmonies occasionally emerged. The first part of the set was light on verse-chorus song structure, though the set ultimately balanced the inattention to song-form formulae with arrangements that, however head-banging, contained a complex subtext of shifting meters and dropped beats.
The energy never let up during Melvins' energizing ninety-minute set. Nor did the volume. The audience was enthusiastic, with the occasional stage diver adding some visual fun for those in the bleachers, not to mention an extra thrill or two for the stage-crowders. Melvins may not be everybody's cup of tea, and might seem an odd programming choice for a festival that will be featuring Anthony Braxton in two different performances on Day Four. Anyone who saw Braxton here in 2005 will, however, know that Melvins fit into the larger definition of Musique Actuelleand that it's not beyond the realm of possibility that, were Braxton to hear the group, he could easily turn out to be a forceful advocate (as happened with Wolf Eyes) of a band that puts the "heavy in heavy metal.