Music Features

The Last Band Standing: Melvins Approach 40 Years on Five Legged Tour

Melvins. Credit: Chris Casella.

In March of 2023, the Melvins will celebrate the 40th anniversary of playing its first live show. But why wait until then to observe the group’s entire legacy (so far)? 

The “Five Legged Tour” is so named after the group’s massive 2021 collection, Five Legged Dog (Ipecac), featuring acoustic renditions of some of the most popular songs, cherry picked from throughout the Melvins catalog. Following suit, this latest round of shows functions as something of a greatest hits tour, but drummer Dale Crover hesitates to call it that. 

“We try to cover as much as we can,” Crover says. “There will be stuff that we always play during our live shows. We’ll also play stuff from the second and third records, probably not from the first record, but as soon as I say that here, the setlist will change to include something from that album,” he laughs. “The meat of it will be there, along with a few things we haven’t played in years, and at least two songs from the new album.”

The new album in question is Bad Mood Rising (Amphetamine Reptile), a six-song full-length that finds the group returning to the melodic, demonic punk metal molasses that defined such early ‘90s classic albums as Bullhead (‘91), Lysol (‘92) and Houdini (‘93). 

Since the group formed in rural Montesano, WA in 1983, singer and guitar player “King Buzzo” Buzz Osborne has remained consistently at the helm for an ever-growing body of work that evokes a sludgy and ecstatic head-nodding state of mind. 

Crover joined the band in 1984. Current bass player Steven McDonald of Los Angeles punk and power pop band Redd Kross joined the Melvins in 2015, following a long line of bass players ranging from avant-garde jazz/rock figure Trevor Dunn to JD Pinkus of the Butthole Surfers.

On stage, McDonald swerves and swaggers, reaching for the heavens in a series of rock god maneuvers. Juxtaposed with Osbourne and Crover’s stoic presence, he adds an element of excitement to the Melvins slow roar, and he backs it all up with a monster sound that’s tailor-made to boost the group’s surly dirges.

“He goes all out every night, and he’s always the one who’s happiest to be there on the stage,” Crover laughs.

Live, the Melvins have a reputation for delivering colossal performances, bridging the sludgy early material with the more evolved songwriting of (A) Senile Animal (2006) and Nude With Boots (2008), both featuring Coady Willis and Jared Warren of Big Business.

With each new album, the Melvins summon an ambiance that falls somewhere between confrontation and meditation, draped in layers of fuzzed-out distortion, hypnotic rhythms, staccato percussion and menacing weirdness that is as tense as it is uncompromising.

One song they’re playing from Bad Mood Rising, titled “Mr. Dog is Totally Right,” is a massive and plodding opus that distills much of the group’s legacy into a nearly 13-minute metallic onslaught.

The group’s formative years coincided with the rise of Seattle’s grunge rock scene in the early ‘90s, culminating in the murk and overdriven guitar rock of early albums by Tad, Mudhoney and Nirvana. Crover played drums on some songs from Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, and the Melvins even famously worked with Kurt Cobain to produce Houdini. According to Osborne, though, Cobain was fired because he couldn’t do the job due to issues related to drug abuse.

Still, the group never embraced any stylistic affiliation with grunge. “I have never been a follower, and we have never wanted to be a part of what’s popular at the time, or any trends,” Osborne says. “We have always planted our flag somewhere else and people have come to it. I have always felt that the more peculiar you are as a musician, the better.”

For Osborne, this steadfast self-reliance has yielded something in the neighborhood of 40 Melvins and solo albums, more than 2,000 live shows, and a new book of black and white photography, titled Rats, out this year.

“We’ve been a band since 1983. We’ve never quit, we’ve never taken a break and stopped being a band, and I have seen people come and go from the highest heights to the lowest lows—death, resurrection, and more death,” Osborne says.

In the art world that I am in, there is a war of attrition; whomever is the last man standing is the winner. So far it’s me, with no end in sight.”

WHO: Melvins, We are the Asteroid, Void Manes
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 7, 8 p.m. (doors)
WHERE: 40 Watt Club