When the announcement was made that grunge rock innovators The Melvins were not only returning to Australia, but bringing Californian power pop legends Redd Kross with them it was a nineties rock fans wettest of dreams. And do you know what is was even better than that.
California’s Redd Kross are one of my favourite bands from the 1980’s and 90’s. They came from a punk rock background and were part of the same scene that spawned a myriad of bands that would become influential and seminal throughout the decade and into the 90’s (early members of the band went on to join Black Flag and The Circle Jerks if that gives you some idea). Essentially they were a power pop band, with high octane rock and roll roots.
Their trademark harmonies provided by brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald, giving the kind of unique vocal blend you can only achieve with the same DNA. They were full of great riffs, punk energy and pop sensibility. They were soaked in pop culture references, which worked for me. Their name came from the masturbation scene in The Exorcist. They sang songs about Linda Blair, Japanese all girl band Shonen Knife, George Harrison and Runaways guitarist Lita Ford. They recorded an mini-album (Teen Babes From Monsanto) which bulged with great covers of songs by Kiss, Stones, Stooges, Shangri-La’s, Bowie and Boyce and Hart. They turned up in cool underground movies like Teenage Love Dolls and Love Dolls Superstar (covering the Partridge Family along the way -well worth hunting down) and the absolute classic Spirit of ’76 (find it and thank me later).
By the time the Neurotica came out in 1987, they were becoming a big underground hit with a legion of fans and their sound was helping form the basis of what would become ‘grunge’ a couple of years later. And by Third Eye in 1990 and Phaseshifter in 1993, they has leaped into mainstream consciousness and were ripping everybody a new one. Some might say that there determination to have fun might have held them back from being taken seriously enough in the Grunge world they helped create, but that humour is precisely the thing that set them apart from many of their contemporaries. They went into hibernation after the death of guitarist Eddie Kurdziel in 1999 and regrouped almost a decade later for occasional shows and a cracking new album (Resurrecting The Blues) a couple of years ago. I was gutted that I didn’t get to see them on the line-up of The Hoodoo Gurus Dig It Up Festival in 2012 with Dinosaur Jr and 2013, so I was thrilled to bit that they made to Adelaide this time.
Tonight’s gig is weirdly incestuous in some ways. Currently banging the drums for Redd Kross is Dale Crover long time drummer from The Melvins (and formative member of Nirvana for you history fans). When the Melvins arrive on stage Steve McDonald from Redd Kross is playing bass guitar. So both McDonald and Crover are pulling double duty every night. Live Redd Kross are an absolutely ferocious band to see. Their sound is a snarling, powerhouse of energy and hooks and harmony. They couldn’t be more Redd Krossy if they got a team of experts in. They are perfect.
It is a set full of favourites. Lady in The Front Row, Switchblade Sister, Stay Away from Downtown. They crank into Jimmy’s Fantasy and my head explodes. Annie’s Gone gives us no recovery time and then they cover The Beatles It Won’t Be Long and Deuce by Kiss! I’ll Blow You a Kiss In The Wind was written by Monkees hit makers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart ad was once performed on Bewitched by Samantha’s ‘evil’ twin Serena (see what I mean about those pop culture references! Steve tells a very funny story about the first time they came to Adelaide (with Hoodoo Gurus in the 1994).
“We got off the plane and there were hundreds of screaming teenage girls at the airport, and we were thinking This is Cool. Until we realized that the English boy band East 17 were on the same flight as us and all the girls were there for them. I mean, where are East 17 now? They don’t get to play at The Gov!”. They finish up with Bowie’s Saviour Machine and their own Linda Blair 1984. Absolutely fantastic!
After a short break (and a costume change for McDonald) The Melvins hit the stage. They have been around since 1983 and started off as a high speed hardcore punk band, but soon morphed into playing slower and heavier music that has been called doom metal or amusingly ‘sludge rock’. The Melvins main man is Buzz Osbourne, known as King Buzzo and is as legendary in grunge/alternative circle as the other Osbourne is in the world of Metal. He was the one that introduce Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic to Dave Grohl, just as an example. Gene Simmons from Kiss played bass on their cover of Goin’ Blind at a 1993, and Simmons never plays with ANYBODY! They can be noisy as fuck, they can be as experimental as a mad scientist.
In a castle.
On a cliff top.
With test tubes and bubbling potions.
In a electrical storm.
The result of their experimental adventures can mean you don’t really know what you are going to get with them. They put out an album in 2001 that had two tracks on it. One went for five seconds and the other went for fifty nine minutes. They can sound like Cream, or Sonic Youth or Mountain, but mostly they sound exactly like The Melvins. Buzz has worked with Mike Patton from Faith No More / Fantomas regularly ad Dead Kennedy legend Jello Biafra too. Their fans are rabidly loyal. The limited edition event poster was sold out before they picked up their instruments and several people had various rare (and expensive) vinyl box sets, looking for autographs afterwards.
The closest thing I can compare them to is San Francisco’s art-rock legends The Residents who routinely pop out box sets and limited editions that are eagerly snapped up by the small but fervent fan base. They launch tonight with their version of the Flipper song Sacrifice. Buzzo looks like a Adult Swim cartoon character mad scientist, like the crazed eyed and sex crazed Barbarella character Duran Duran (yes it’s where the band got their name) but with Sideshow Bob’s hairdresser. He is wearing a three quarter length smock thing, with black stocking and boots. He looks remarkable. He looks amazing. They make a astounding noise.
Sludge rock, is a derogatory sounding label, but it is a good descriptor for what they do. There is a lot of bottom end, a lot of slow compelling slow, I hesitate to say the word ‘grooves’ as that implies some end of the night funk jam, let’s say rhythms. Oven clock in at under two minutes and Anaconda reminds my of Earache My Eye by Cheech & Chong. Stylistically throughout their set, you can see where a lot of bands have been stealing their shtick for a long time. Nine Inch Nails and Tool spring to mind. The Killing Machine is fierce and the guitar work staccato and laser precise. It’s Shoved is from their 1991 album Bullhead and a great inclusion for the long termers! There stoner rock deconstruction of The Beatles of I Wanna Hold Your Hand, is on of the great interpretations of all time, up there with Devo’s Satisfaction or Zoot’s Eleanor Rigby.
Euthanasia and Edgar The Elephant both from this years A Walk With Love & Death album, sound epic and full of foreboding. The Bit from the classic 19996 album Stag, finishes off the set in grunge rock grandeur. They return for Onions Make Milk Taste Bad from Hold It In (2014). A rolling take on Amazon from 1999’s The Maggot album, full of proto-type chugging doomy guitars and thundering bottom end that threatens to make your skeleton unscrew itself and leave you in a puddle on the floor. But the finish is the epically epic drone stoner odyssey Lysol (also known as Hung Bunny). It’s a heavy as a monster truck falling down a mountain Dale Crover is beating the living crap out of his kit which after playing two sets tonight is a wonder in itself. Terrific stuff all round. There is some possibility that Redd Kross being so upbeat actually made Melvins seem even more doomy than normal, whatever the case this was a hell of a gig. I salute you all.
Review by Ian Bell
Lady In the Front Row
Stay Away from Downtown
It Won’t Be Long (Beatles)
I’ll Blow You A Kiss in the Wind (Boyce & Hart)
Annette’s Got The Hits
Saviour Machine (Bowie)
Linda Blair 1984
Queen The Kicking Machine
I Want To Hold Your Hand (Beatles)
Edgar the Elephant