A little story about the Melvins, Mr. Bungle and me

So I’ve just finished up a couple of interviews with Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover of the Melvins, one of the greatest bands of time and space — more about that piece when it runs! Both very personable guys and while I’ve no doubt I was just one of a million interviewers they talked to this week they had some good thoughts and great quotes.

They also remembered one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen, ever. Good friend Mackro saw it too; he and I were a few months away from meeting for the first time but I had gone down to OC with my friend Steve to see the show and he likewise had come up from UCI with friend Dave to see it.

What follows, originally typed up some years ago (and with a lot of tics and quirks that frankly I cringe to see now), is my story, modified by Mackro’s memories, as well as what Buzz and Dale confirmed just now, plus the prompt of a recording of the show I got from a hyperBungle fan a few years back (much of the detail of the show I’d remembered perfectly, though not all of it). Enjoy:

Down in the sweet balm of Orange County, at the long-gone and unlamented Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim, a ye olde theatre-in-the-round, Mr. Bungle announces a show, to considerable excitement in certain sectors. The lingering KNAC crowd is especially drawn to this, due to the Faith No More connection, which is about all most people have actually heard (those wondering about KNAC need know only this, that it was a station which nowadays in its online only format pretends it was all Metallica back in 1987 when in fact Ratt and Poison and so forth were its bread and butter more so than our favorite Napster-lovin’ combo — but I digress). In the meantime, feckless young innocents as myself and Mackro, though we did not know each other at the time, who actually had heard the album and loved it, considered this a Distinct Blessing, as FNM were about to fire up the Angel Dust tour and Bungle would have to disappear for a while. Off we all went.

As friend Steve and I fended our way past the leathery-faced 35-and-up permatan David Coverdale rock dude and dudette types, as well as the more understandable young semi-proto grunge/whatever crowd, we concluded that this was perhaps going to be a strange evening. (MACKRO — don’t forget the Red Hot Chili Peppers/Fishbone dorks..) Grotus was the opening band, so we settled on in as they Did Their Thing, and it was a fairly fine thing at that, industrial rock hoohah of a gone sort. Viva, etc., off they go, the Young Gods’ TV Sky plays on the monitors, and the next band sets up.

Said band are them glorious Melvins, who do their thing — which is not what the crowd came to hear. As time passes, said crowd turns ugly, as cheerful cries of “You suck!” increase in volume. The Melvins mostly laugh their asses off and keep doing what they do, finally leaving to the general crowd’s delight. (MACKRO — Joe Preston didn’t seem to care, Buzzo tried to make the songs slower and more grueling, AND AND AND Dale Crover went up to the mike after their set and said to the crowd “Mr. Bungle says fuck you”) Myself, I was new to them and didn’t know entirely what to think, but I thought most folks were being way too harsh.

As it happened, Bungle very clearly agreed with me.

[2008 EDIT -- Mackro and I had heard a couple of stories about this but here's the full skinny: as Buzz and Dale confirmed to me, Mike Patton saw how the Melvins were treated, immediately tore up the setlist for Mr. Bungle and wrote out a new one directed at the audience which read "TONIGHT THEY WILL PAY."]

Bungle take the stage, dressed entirely in combinations of wrestling masks, Aztec outfits and other oddities — no surprise there, per se. The crowd is cheering, pumped, the pit is ready, bring it on. The band acknowledge no-one and nothing, finish setting up and launch into…

…a twenty-minute low-key jazz noodle (MACKRO — eeh wouldn’t say that… it was more of a Melvins/Earth type guitar buzz except even more minimal and grueling/MY 2008 EDIT: Mackro’s right, as the recording confirmed.). Patton wanders around the stage, apparently speaking in tongues to himself. The band then play the closest thing to a cover version of Spinal Tap’s “Jazz Odyssey” there is, only without the energy and pace. It’s…interesting, true. The crowd vaguely quiets down, then starts to get more and more impatient. Bungle, of course, ignore their feelings entirely. It gets to the point where the pit starts crowd-surfing even when there is *no* music remotely approaching pit/mosh/surf levels, which apparently increases the band’s utter contempt for the crowd. (2008 EDIT: both Buzz and Dale remembered that as well!)

After that, for the next thirty minutes or so, Bungle proceed to play one of the most fucked-up sets I’ve heard in a while. Ignoring their album entirely, they proceed to amuse themselves with some indescribable nonsense, interspersed with equally indescribable cover versions. Thus, we are entertained at points by a cover of Tom Jones’ Bond theme “Thunderball,” sung by Patton in a strangled roar (2008 EDIT: Dale remembers that there were a bunch of older ladies in the audience, which is where he must have been watching the show and laughing at the festivities; he had no idea why they were there — ‘must have been somebody’s moms or something’ — but that when “Thunderball” started they all got excited and went “Tom Jones!”), and that one Alan Parsons Project song that goes, “Time…keeps flowing like a river…to the sea…,” except Bungle turned up the amps and Patton practically yells out, “TIME…KEEPS FLOWING LIKE A RIVERRRRR…TO *THE SEA!!!*”… (MACKRO — they also did a song without any instruments, just this Negativland-ish sample loopy thing.)

Somewhere in all this, while starting at last to do songs from the first record, the drummer busts out the Queen “We Will Rock You” beat or its equivalent and Patton gets the crowd going with claps and shouts, leading to this priceless exchange:

Patton: “All right everyone, REPEAT AFTER ME! (in time to the beat) BUD-WEI-SER!”
Crowd: “BUD-WEI-SER!”
Patton: “MICH-EL-OB!”
Crowd: “MICH-EL-OB!”

This goes on, other music and songs are performed. Then all of a sudden there’s a pause:

Patton: “All right, now! I LOVE THE MEL-VINS!”
Crowd: “I LOVE The mel…” (fading rapidly as they realize what they’re saying)
Patton: *bending back, in full madman voice* “AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!” *turns away and ignores crowd*

They end up doing a few first album songs, but only that — “Travolta,” “Love is a Fist,” “My Ass is On Fire.” They abandon the stage. To my semi-surprise, there’s enough cheering and callbacks for an encore, as many others have been booing lustily and complaining loudly. So the band come back for an encore…logically, it’s another weird-ass crazy jam of something nobody recognizes.

And then this happens:

As one, the rest of the band stop what they’re doing and turn to the drummer. Initially he looks confused, as far as anyone can tell with his mask on. The others then start singing, enjoyably, “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to…” etc.

The drummer stands up, a look of fear showing through his mask. He immediately throws his sticks down and runs off. Remember that this is a theatre in the round, with the band set up center, playing to one half of the venue, the other half roped off and empty. So the drummer charges up one of the empty aisles as fast as he can.

The other band members are displeased with this. They therefore drop *their* instruments and charge after him. To Steve’s and my utter amazement, we see them catch up with the drummer and, as best as we can tell, completely beat the living shit out of him!

And that was it. No ‘good night,’ no final announcement, nothing. Shortly thereafter the lights go up, so we all leave.

Steve and I were utterly, totally amazed, we had clearly seen one of the best shows of our lives, something Brian agreed with me on when we compared notes much later. All around us the leathery types and moshpit morons and others were bitching and complaining and saying what shit it was — we realized that they had completely and utterly missed the joke on them. It was conceptual art terrorism of a high degree, and I’ve never seen anything like it since.

(2008 EDIT — I just realized I forgot to ask Buzz and Dale to fully confirm that last part. If it was only a fever dream of an ending, well, it only seemed appropriate.)

Akron/Family — believe the hype

Which almost sounds dismissive, but isn’t meant to be, trust me.

Thing is, I’d known of Akron/Family‘s work for a while since the first album, as I’ve been lucky enough to be on Young God‘s promo list for a bit, and was well aware of how they were good sounding sorts, both on their own and playing with Michael Gira in Angels of Light efforts. Apparently at some point they’d been tagged with being another one of ‘those’ NYC bands in a ‘you’re all from Williamsburg or Park Slope or something, right?’ sense, which sounded pretty nonsensical to me three thousand miles away and all. It’s not like they sounded like the Strokes, for heaven’s sake. (Good thing too.)

I’d not seen them live, though — and it wasn’t until I read something from Nari about how a performance she caught up in Big Sur was apparently one of those WHOA-my-god-my-world-is-changed moments along the lines of me seeing MBV that I realized ‘okay, so something is clearly up.’ In rapid succession I had almost everyone and their mother who had encountered them live say, “You HAVE to see them perform.” This is a good thing, it reminds me of the essential difference between Radiohead in studio (exquisite) and Radiohead live (monumental), both astonishingly great but somewhat different beasts.

In a convenient bit of timing, there’s a great piece on the band in the latest Yeti which I recommend — I actually need to recommend the whole issue, that’ll be another post — so they’d been on my mind anyway. Then friend Eric drops me a last minute line after I get home from work yesterday saying, “Hey, they’re playing a secret show at the Echo Curio tonight, wanna go?” (Like a lot of bands playing Coachella, as they’re doing today, Akron/Family decided to slip in an unannounced show for LA while in the area.) Tentative plans had fallen through so I was on board pretty quickly, helped by the fact that the Echo Curio is a great venue — last year’s Bottling Smoke festival was a treat and a half, as I wrote about for Plan B, and you can scrounge through all my photos here if you like.

It was great to go again, been far too long, and folks like Grant and Ged and Tim and many others familiar from last year were there, as were a healthy contingent of the current KUCI crew (many of whom recognized me from the library — love how that works). Opening bands Vampire Hands (Minneapolis quartet, percussion heavy art/math/pop dudes with a slight early Eno fetish) and Chapa (local LA quintet, stylish jazz/hint of klezmer/sweetly zoned rock, like a better National or something) both put on some great sets so the mood was right, and Akron/Family came in and set up, introduced themselves as the great Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (no Riverbottom Nightmare Band?) and DAMN. Yeah, they killed it. I’m still tired from getting in late last night so the words aren’t really around, but even if you didn’t know a note from these folks, bring your earplugs and get there and go to town. Most energized crowd I’ve seen in nonstop dance mode for a ‘rock’ band as described since probably the New Fast Automatic Daffodils — and that was seventeen years ago.

What was most interesting to me wasn’t their vaunted and successful sense of getting the crowd going with singalongs and handclaps and direct participation without having to do any sort of “C’MON LET’S SEE THOSE HANDS!” hoohah (Dave Gahan is the only one I’ll allow that from). It’s not like they involved call-and-response, after all (and they would never claim to have). Instead, it really was all about the jaw-dropping fluidity with which the band performs and slips and moves from mode to mode, style to style, without making it seem clunky or forced. At the risk of damning with faint praise, at a couple of points I thought “This would be what the Arcade Fire might be like if I liked them,” ie able to be successful at uplifting energy transformed outward — a more apt comparison to my mind came later, namely that they might actually approach prime Boredoms instead. (And I thought this before I met Sam from KUCI wearing his Boredoms shirt.)

Anyway, took photos of all three bands, quietly crouched near the fan and the front door (the Echo Curio can and does overheat just by default, so I’ve learned to trust my comfort levels), and my set of Akron/Family photos is here. A lot of murk of course but there were a few shots that stood out for me:

A kind of blue Miles

A little off-kilter

Caught in the light

Dance, dance, dance

Good stuff. Great band. And Miles and Seth were extremely polite and cool fellows when I chatted with them briefly. Yeah, see ‘em. (And see Vampire Hands and Chapa too — the former are currently going up the coast with their tour and they’re all real friendly dudes, so introduce yourselves!)

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