REVIEW: Melvins get to third bass in Berkeley

The Melvins

The Melvins perform at the Cornerstone in Berkeley on Jan. 21, 2019. Photos: Karen Goldman.

BERKELEY — The last time anybody remembers the pioneering kings of sludge The Melvins playing the East Bay was 1992. A lot has changed in the intervening 27 years. But as the veteran rockers proved before a sold-out crowd at The Cornerstone Brewery, the more things change, the more good rock and roll stays the same.

The latest iteration of The Melvins’ rotating roster includes not one, but two bass players—augmenting the band’s core members: drummer Dale Crover and guitarist King Buzzo. Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald unleashed his four-string attack wearing a stylish red and black suit and assuming some of the hottest rock god poses seen since Kiss. Former Butthole Surfer Jeff Pinkus contributed to the rumble, clad in a sleeveless patterned polyester shirt that made it difficult to discern where the shirt ended and his tattoos began. 

The Melvins

The Melvins perform at the Cornerstone in Berkeley on Jan. 21, 2019.

After all these years, the magnificent heft of King Buzzo’s distorted guitar chords and Crover’s time-dilating drum beats still sound as beautiful as they did more than a quarter of a century ago.

The Melvins began their set with an incredibly tight version of “The Kicking Machine,” off 2008’s Nude with Boots. While the recording features two drummers, Crover had no trouble nailing the beat on his own. Buzzo stalked the stage in his signature velour onesie embroidered with eyeballs, while McDonald busted out his best Eddie Van Halen kicks and head-banging hair twirls.

Next, the band dug way back into its catalog and summoned “Anaconda,” off 1991’s Bullhead. The song was slow and sinewy, with thick slab of bass sound emanating from McDonald and Pinkus. The set’s no-nonsense version clocked in at around three minutes, a far cry from the 20-minute jams of the version The Melvins have been known to do in the past.

The Melvins

The Melvins perform at the Cornerstone in Berkeley on Jan. 21, 2019.

The Melvins played a couple of covers. First, grunge godfathers Malfunkshun’s “Wit Yo’ Heart (Not Yo Hands),” featuring a blistering guitar solo by Buzzo, and then James Gang’s 1969 song, “Stop” which Pinkus sang with abandon.

The Melvins also paid tribute to Pinkus’ former band, playing a cover of The Butthole Surfers’ psychedelic “Moving to Florida.” Buzzo aped the high weirdness of Gibby Haynes by adopting a drunken drawl while delivering lines like, “Well, well I been movin’ down to Florida/ And I’m gonna bowl me a perfect game/ Well I’m gonna cut off my leg down in Florida, child/ and I’m gonna dance one-legged off in the rain.” As the band rocked the noisy, bass-laden outro, McDonald and Pinkus delivered some synchronized high kicks.

The Melvins selected songs from various points in their 40-year career, playing “Edgar the Elephant” from the 2017 soundtrack to A Walk With Love and Death. This they followed by “Revolve,” from 1991’s Stoner Witch; “The Bit,” from 1996’s Stag; and “The Talking Horse,” from 2006’s A Senile Animal.

Jeff Pinkus sang over dueling basses on “Don’t Forget to Breathe,” off 2018 Melvins album Pinkus Abortion Technician. The song’s outro had Pinkus and McDonald screaming the song title’s reminder on top Buzzo’s grinding riffage.

The crowd favorites all came from 1993’s Houdini. “Honey Bucket” witnessed one of the largest mosh pits of the night. For the last song, “Night Goat,” The Melvins invited their former bassist, Kevin Rutmanis, to join them in their final sonic assault. The three bassists on the stage filled the venue with growling sound fans could feel in their guts.


Hepa-Titus performs at the Cornerstone in Berkeley on Jan. 21, 2019.

Rutmanis also served as the frontman for the evening’s opening act, hepa-Titus. The loud and noisy trio assailed the audience with a distorted creole that combined the psychedelic weirdness of Captain Beefheart with the disorganized cacophony of The Butthole Surfers. Rutmanis, clad in white and wearing a headlamp, played a baritone guitar with a slide, conjuring all nature of angry sounds from his instrument.

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