GIG REVIEW: MELVINS & HELMS ALEE Live at Iron Works, Buffalo, NY
It was a balmy evening as concert–goers lined the cobble stoned street to enter Iron Works in Buffalo, NY to see legendary Washington band (the) Melvins. I went into the show with few expectations, as I only knew the work of Melvins by their reputation. I listened to a few songs before going to the show, but mostly went in blind – or deaf as I suppose is more accurate. So this was a cold hearing by a non-fan. I am however a big fan of Buzz Osborne’s other band Fantômas, and was aware of course of his infamous hair. I chatted with some fans prior to the show, and they requested that I write an entire paragraph on his amazing hair. I won’t go that far, but I will say it would take Tolstoy writing a novel to do it justice. At one point, I began to wonder if his hair was more famous than he is. But I digress.
The opening band was Helms Alee, whom I had never heard of. They turned out to be a power trio who play heavy, slow doom metal. Their riffs were massive, and they flowed and grooved like the sea their name sake’s activity deals with (“helms alee” is a nautical term included in the different commands for tacking a sailboat). All three also sang nearly equal parts, with the drummer and bassist (both women) singing cleanly, and the guitarist handling screams. Drumming and singing at the same time is never an easy task, and it was a bit awkward at times, but they all handled their part well. Opening bands can often be a nightmare, but Helms Alee were highly enjoyable to watch.
At 9 PM, Melvins hit the stage, and immediately broke into a heavily bass–based piece of music which was very minimal – essentially playing the same 2 or 3 notes, and beats for the next ten minutes. The crowd seemed most appreciative, while I found it rather trying to say the least, And I’m a person who very much enjoys Sunn O))). Eventually, they began to play an actual song, and the rest of the evening was a mixed bag of pieces that can be described as slow and heavy doom or stoner-style metal, and other more up-tempo pieces that were more straight-forward and punk-like, assuming of course that you were hearing punk music played by people who actually know how to play their instruments. They did not interact very much with the audience, which was fine as their drummer Dale Crover talked a few times instead. He was so tremendously awkward that I feared he had a lobotomy at some point in the distant past. He was however an absolute monster behind the kit, and that’s all that mattered.
Halfway through the set was my favorite moment: the band playing a stunning cover of Alice Cooper’s classic “Halo of Flies” which also happens to be my favorite song of his. And they did it in their own unique style – slowed down, and much heavier than the original. It was familiar, but they made it their own, and it frankly was one of the best covers I’ve ever heard.
The rest of the night was a mixed bag. For my tastes regarding Melvins music (from what I heard tonight), slow and heavy apparently wins the race. When they got into their “punkier” sound, I quickly lost interest and found myself checking the clock on my phone to see when it would be over. At the closing of the concert, I heard some things I could very much get into, and stuff I didn’t like at all. But they have a presence which can’t be ignored, and I’m glad I got to see them play. However I won’t be lining up to see them again the next time they hit town.