September 1 marked the first time in a whole decade that seminal sludge metal gods and grunge pioneers The Melvins played a gig in Toronto. It was a welcome return for local fans of the band, who for the past ten years have had to plot pilgrimages to far-flung burgs such as Buffalo and Detroit to catch the band live. Touring in support of their latest release, June’s And The Bride Screamed Murder, The Melvins’ return to Hogtown (“Return to Hogtown” would actually be an excellent title for a Melvins album…or at least a Primus album) came with all kinds of rumours.
First came the rumour that there would be no opener, which turned out to be true. This, in turn, led to whisperings of the band playing some epic, two and a half hour set. Which begat all kinds of unconfirmed reports that there would be two sets, with the band playing their classic 1993 album Houdini in its entirety, followed by some other stuff. Then people started saying that frontman Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne was actually just two dwarfs in a costume. (Okay, we started that last one.)
In any event, none of these stories held much water. Regardless, The Melvins cooked up a solid set of riff-laden, slow-tempo stoner rock at the Opera House. Here’s what it looked like from where we stood.
7:25 PM: Biking by the Opera House, people are already lined up outside for tickets, the line bending south down Lewis Street. Kitty-corner from the venue, neighbourhood greasy spoon Dangerous Dan’s is already teeming with kids whose pilled Mastodon and Misfits tees also mark them as Melvins fans.
9:50 PM: The Melvins take the stage ten minutes early, to the theme from The Great Escape.
9:53 PM: The band kicks things off with “The Water Glass,” the opener from And The Bride Screamed Murder. While the song’s first half is convincingly raucous, the latter half, with its “Rock me, rock me, rock me, rock steady!” still sounds an awful lot like something you’d expect to hear on one of those Jock Jams comps. It works live, though, in a Gary-Glitter-after-six-bong-loads kind of way.
10:01 PM: As evinced by their t-shirts (Helmet, TOOL, Black Flag, Soundgarden) the audience is fairly eclectic, which, given The Melvins’ near–thirty year history of melding hardcore punk, doom metal, and grunge, is hardly surprising.
10:08 PM: The drummer from local hardcore/punk outfit Bastard Child Death Cult is right off the rails: fist-pumping with a king can of Coor’s Light in each hand. Beer spilling everywhere. Granted, it is a fist-pump-with-a-king-can-in-each-hand kind of show.
10:15 PM: Band picks up speed with a cover of “Pinhead” by The Ramones. There’s probably nothing more fun to yell surrounded by other beer-soaked idiots at a show than “Gabba Gabba Hey!”
The view from the first few rows of Wednesday night’s Melvins concert.
10:19 PM: First crowd surfer spotted.
10:26 PM: Okay, Opera House, listen up. What’s the deal with the washroom attendant? There are few things more alienating when you’re taking a piss in the basement bathroom of some venue then being assailed by a guy with soap and paper towels as soon as you’re done. And then the expectation of tipping? Yes, it’s lousy work being a washroom attendant. But as full-grown adults, most of us have become comfortable with performing basic tasks such as turning on a faucet, applying soap, and drying our hands off with a paper towel. Maybe if this guy was offering straight-razor shaves or something. But otherwise it’s absurd. You’re not some four-star steak restaurant or gentleman’s lounge, Opera House. You’re a rundown, albeit fairly comfortable, concert venue. You’re across the street from Jilly’s, for heaven’s sake. What are you trying to prove?
10:32 PM: Sightline is impaired substantially. This is a function of a) arriving late and b) taking a bathroom break. Luckily, Buzzo’s grey Brillo-pad mop is visible from anywhere in the room. Also, he’s wearing his trademark turtleneck or a neck warmer or zipped-up track jacket or whatever it is. It must be awfully hot. Though he probably knows what he’s doing by this point.
10:45 PM: Two women near the back of the room are comparing their breasts. Sure.
10:57 PM: This is also the first Melvins show in Toronto since they folded Big Business drummer and bassist Coady Willis and Jared Warren into the band. This means two drummers. In theory, two drummers seems like one too many drummers (calling to mind some indulgent, airy Allman Brothers jamming or something), but here it works. It makes everything louder, for one, with the bass driving well into the back of the room. Willis and Dale Crover sync up in interesting ways. Willis is left-handed, and when he and Crover play in time it results in a weird fun-house mirror effect.
11:02 PM: Loud bands are the best. The Pixies may have been on to something with that whole LOUD-quiet-LOUD formula. But loud-LOUDER-loud works just as well.
11:08 PM: After six minutes of lethal, heavy-as-hell jamming, Crover and Willis stand on their drum thrones, breaking into a chorus of Merle Haggard’s 1969 country anthem “Okie From Muskogee,” which The Melvins covered on their 2000 album The Crybaby. It’s an appropriate closer, considering that 2000 was the last time The Melvins graced a Toronto stage. And given the smell of stale beer and pot smoke lingering in the venue, lyrics like “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/ We don’t take no trips on LSD” seem doubly-satirical.
11:15 PM: So that’s it. The band leaves the stage. No encore. Some people still believe that they’ll be back on for another set, but the roadies dismantling the gear on stage suggests otherwise. It was an awesome set, to be sure. But given all the loose talk of some nine-hour Melvins marathon, a lot of people in audience can’t help but feel a little cheated.
Photos by D.A. Cooper/Torontoist.