Bearing Witness to the Survivors


The Melvins, In Concert

The Showbox, Seattle

If I'm being completely honest, The Melvins have always been a band that existed more in Rock lore than in my personal CD collection. I've known of them for decades and while their reputation certainly proceeds them (particularly stories about frontman King Buzzo) I can't say that I had listened to any of their numerous albums from beginning to end until preparing for this 40th Anniversary concert. They always felt like a band for fans cooler than I; more knowledgeable, more hip, more versed in the Rock catalogue… fortunately for me, I have a number of friends who fit this description. However, upon asking around, I was surprised to find that I was not alone in my ignorance. Even life-long musicians, well into their 40s and several albums-deep in their own careers, knew of The Melvins but weren't much more familiar with their work than I was. This left me wondering who is this legendary band celebrating 40 years of making music…

After doing some long-overdue listening and a little bit of research, one of the first words that comes to mind is survivors. Between drug abuse and the Rock lifestyle in general, there are few bands from the late '80s and early '90s that are still alive and fully functioning, yet in a sea of tired reunion tours The Melvins stand out as a legit band that never stopped. Instead of resting on yesterday's hits to pay today's bills, they seem to carry on composing original music that they are inspired to create and whoever wants to listen is more than welcome. Regarding those who might want to listen… it turns out there are a few. With a capacity listed as 1,150 rocking souls, The Showbox was sold out and those who made it in were undeniably familiar with the band they were coming to see. So, despite the scarcity in my own personal world, The Melvins clearly have no trouble attracting an audience.

Speaking of survivors, The Showbox itself qualifies. Founded in 1939 as a Jazz spot and then playing its part as an important venue during Seattle's Grunge Years, in 2018 a Vancouver-based organization had plans to replace it with a fancy-pants apartment building (because housing the exceptionally wealthy has been a real problem in Seattle in recent years). It was only saved by persistent local efforts and an eventual landmark status hopefully solidified those protests in 2019. Seeing this storied band play at this hallowed venue was a perfect alignment of the starts haunted with echoes of a time gone by.

Now, finally, a few words about the concert… there was power and there was joy. After 40 years of doing what he does, Buzz Osborne still seems to genuinely love it. His guitar playing was tight, his vocals were passionate, and his energy was high. He plays and sings like he's alone in his room, performing for his own enjoyment… fortunately we got to peak in. Steven Shane McDonald is having fun too, masterfully handling his bass while playing with the audience, and Coady Willis of Big Business does an impressive job filing in on the drums for Dale Crover who's out recovering from back surgery (Get well soon, Dale!). For a three-piece with a last-minute charge-out drummer it's amazing how seamless their set was. Though their roots may be in the world of garage bands, these are seasoned, professional musicians who know their craft and have ample bandwidth to accept adjustments on the fly while all making it look oh so easy.

In a world where Rock music more commonly finds itself in the realm of nostalgia than at the top of the charts, The Melvins are still here. They've never left. Instead, they continue on doing what they want to do in the way they want to do it in a world of their own where there is no room or reason for compromise.

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