Melvins – Taipei Houston – O2 Institute 2 – Birmingham 5th June 2023
Last Monday there was a choice of gigs in Birmingham, mainly between the Fortieth Anniversary tour by the brilliant Melvins and the End Of The Road or whatever it’s called tour by Kiss. Fighting Boredom chose Melvins, just because. Read what we thought below.
I’m stood at the top of the stairs by the ineffectual barrier for the tiny balcony and people are coming in, looking out over the room and just swearing. This place is full, there is nowhere to stand. The air feels like I’m in a swamp and the queue for the toilets is insane. God knows how the Photographer’s doing down the front.
Taipei Houston are a duo, brothers, and we might as well mention it as everyone else is, they are the sons of Lars from Metallica. Right, don’t need to say that again as I don’t care about Lars and Metallica. They play bass and drums and although a few bands are doing that now it’s still a bit of a novelty for me to be seeing such a lineup. They create a big sound, they start with a bass humming drone and then a slow nasty riff that speeds up when the drums kick in. A rough grungy vocal and they are pretty good. A couple of skinny kids in vests giving it everything. It’s a full rounded sound for a duo. I think all the Melvins are watching from the sides as Taipei Houston’s enthusiasm is infectious.
They go into funky drumming as the bass descends alongside, it’s a stuttering, lurching song that is just great rock music. Then it gets heavier with a high vocal and makes me think of the genius of Sparks. They are really pretty damn good, and it’s funny how enthusiastically they talk between songs, introducing themselves and talking about fast shit, heavy shit and so on. They obviously love what they are doing and want us to too but it’s a bit much for the cynical old man I obviously am. Having said that, the crowd are dancing and no one is leaving so people must think they are pretty good too. The place is full now and heating up, they play a big beat and the a high vocal with more bass riffs, the drummer stands as he hits down, very dramatic, they go into a heavy boogie and then after an extended very metal finish to the song they are gone. Two kids playing what they want to and loving every second.
By the time the Melvins come on the place is packed, it’s next to impossible to get a drink, walk up and down the exit stairs or go to the toilet, there’s a tiny amount of merch left and a big sign saying that ‘this is all we have left!’ The empty stage is lit up in blue, that’ll please the Photographer, he doesn’t like shooting with just blue light. The lights go down and Take On Me by Aha starts playing as an intro, I don’t know why, ask King Buzzo. Buzz is wearing a remarkable kaftan festooned with embroidered eyes, his white frizzy mop of hair resplendent. Steve is possibly taking a nod to his other band and is all in Red, and I mean all, red tunic with a gold pattern, red trousers and shoes and a bright red bass. Long hair and moustache, they look like rock stars. Dale wears black and a scowl, Dale is cool without trying. Enough said.
The drums and bass immediately start to wig out, it’s as loud as hell and then feedback cuts over, everything locks in and Buzz is everywhere, all over the stage before standing and singing, it’s a proper battering for the ears, it’s fast, hard and nasty. The crowd are all over the place, the band have found an atrocious stuttering groove. It’s menacing, battering and pulverising. A huge sound that these dudes have been creating for decades now, Steve is throwing shapes, Dale is hammering away and it just keeps going on and on. It’s loose enough for the music to breathe and have space to attack us properly and tight enough to not give the lunatics down the front a moment to rest.
You realise, startled, that the slow, fast song they are grinding out now is a cover of The Beatles I Wanna Hold Your Hand, done as a sludgy, stoner doom love song. This is why we go to see this band everytime they pass by, no one else does this, I’m not sure anyone else even gets close. The drums start off the next track, over and over spasmodically leading the way, then the rest of the band comes in and it is immense again. Slow, steady and ugly. I think it’s also got louder as it grinds on, mechanical in its groove. Feedback ushers in another absolute monster of a track, there are classic poses thrown as the music gets nastier and lays waste to everything in its way. Like Godzilla over Tokyo it’s a gigantic mutated creature of noise.
Dale’s gone hip hop funky drummer and the heaviest guitars yet blatter themselves all over the beat. This sounds like fighting music, marching music to the vibe of chaotic anarchy. The band are giving it everything, showmanship and the amount of energy unleashed here tonight could probably power a small town for a night. They hit a massive crescendo and then it’s just the drums again.
Another slow burner now, eased back to let the crowd simmer in their sweat as the bass drum and a low vocal gets progressively stronger until Buzz is yelping at us and a bass buzz circles the drum. Then there’s a stumbling, stuttering song with immense stop and start confusion and the band take turns slotting things into the spaces. Leads to a slow disorientating song with a jerky vocal and a loose chaotic mess behind that slows, pauses and then carries on looser and out of focus then tightens, sparks and goes loud and hard.
Steve pauses long enough to say Hello to Birmingham and then Dale is funking things up again that turns into a low down funky vibe, with, of course, King Buzzo screaming all over it and covering the whole stage between shouts. They circle around to a slow, menace driven distortion drenched dirge and then battering hardcore, with a hatred at its centre fueled by anger and creating joy down the front as bodies clash and roll over each other. I’m not sure if the next bit is the same song or a new one. It’s a hard vocal chant crawling over broken twisted metal. They barely pause between songs, they just play them. This is music for the lost, the ones that don’t fit in, they are perennial losers and so are all of us watching them.
They spiral off into a mad jam. Steve’s doing Rock God poses as the music pounds on and on and on. We are sliding into sludge now and the sound is a cacophonic noise.
They get an encore and Dale stands ‘ A day you don’t dance is a day wasted’ then they finish with a slow, hard, heavy noise improvised shoutfest, sludgy and psychotic metal ends and as Dale and Steve wave goodnight King Buzzo stands alone and plays a last song to us on an empty stage.
What a gig. A women walks past me sweaty as everyone else in the place wearing a tee shirt with the message ‘Grunge Is Dead’ it seems apt.
All pictures by Martin ward, all words by Adrian Bloxham.