Who: The Melvins
Where: The Satellite (aka, Spaceland)
The line to get in the Satellite last night stretched down Silver Lake Blvd and around the corner. It was the third night of the Melvins' sold out Friday night residency and people were eager to get in. The peckish bought gourmet burgers from the heavy metal themed Grill 'Em All truck which was dutifully parked outside.
While waiting in line, hugging my pathetically thin jacket to myself, I made a confession to my photographer. I was a Melvins virgin. I had never seen them before and what was worse I didn't own any albums. Unlike my colleagues at LA Weekly who are very well informed, I was going in blind.
Why? Because everyone I knew spoke of the Melvins with great reverence and tickets to the residency were gone in a flash. There was clearly something I was missing. The lady in front of me overheard and spun around so fast that her ponytail almost snapped like a bullwhip. "You're going to like it," she said with great authority. I wasn't sure whether that was a promise or a threat, but it turned out to be true.
Inside legendary street artist Shepard Fairey spun records in the back of the room while the crowd swarmed the bar like flies on a melted Heath bar. The crowd ranged from the largely non threatening hipster bike punks in plaid to the weathered, hard-looking chopper crowd in denim jackets with cut off sleeves adorned with metal studs, primarily though, there were a lot of young men in dark t-shirts and hoodies in the crowd in varying degrees of cleanliness.
By the time the band took the stage at roughly 9:30 the air in the Satellite had gone from warm to sticky and people started jostling each other anxiously to get in position. Looking every inch like a mad scientist, guitarist Buzz Osborne took the stage in a giant turtleneck festooned with multicolored dogs. He was joined on stage by drummer Dale Crover who was sporting a dress covered in what appeared to be tiny CDs. They began with a cheerful cover of Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee," and then proceeded to tear the place apart.
Now whether the Melvins are a punk metal band or a metal punk band or a sludge metal band can be debated until the end of time. What is for certain is that these guys are heavy. The first few numbers were Osborne and Crover outdoing each other in riotous friendly fashion. Osborne would lay down a monster solo, Crover would give him space, and then in a flurry of sticks Crover would turn out his own wildly complicated solo.
Bassist Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis eventually joined them on stage and the vocals got darker and darker. What started out as a single man's scream became a chorus of foreboding. The kind you imagined hiding under your bed at night as a kid.
By the middle of the set it was clear that it was no accident that the two drum kits were placed front and center in the middle of the stage. Flanked by their fuzzy haired companions on either side, the drummers became the real stars of the show. In perfect unison Crover and Willis brought the crowd to their knees with their inventive solos. Air drumming in the crowd was rampant and people pounded on the bar as they waited for their drinks. Or as one fan who was standing a near the cymbals put it "Ruin me! Ruin my ears forever! I don't need them anymore."
While there was united but pretty restrained head banging, I was really surprised by the lack of moshing. There was some good natured shoving at the front, but nothing where people slammed into each other. One would think that would be a natural fit. Near the end of the evening one young lady was also frustrated by the lack of action and stage dived face first into the crowd. A gutsy move that was rewarded when the crowd caught her, flipped her over, and carried her gently to the back of the room.
The night ended with another touching round of "Okie from Muskogee" with the two drummers in dresses standing on their stools and holding hands. They sang slower and slower like a tape being eaten in a VCR until the warbled sounds of the song disintegrated into car noises. And just as fast as it began it was over.
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The truly crazy moment happened after the show when the waitress, who was a friend of mine, informed me that security was looking for a biter in the crowd. Convinced I had heard her wrong I said, "A fighter?" No, she informed me, apparently a woman had been bitten by another woman who had drawn blood and stolen her necklace.
Fascinated, I ran to the box office, where they confirmed the story. The poor lady in question was clutching her wrist where she had been bitten. Considering her situation she was taking it remarkably well. The staff was scanning the crowd to see if they could spot the offender as they filed out. If anyone knows what happened, please post it. In all my years I've never heard of a biter on the loose at a show.