Sludge Superstars: Seattle rock veterans the Melvins come to Reggies

When sludge-rock progenitors the Melvins formed in a Seattle basement more than a quarter century ago, it’s a fair guess they never expected they’d keep at it so long, let alone sell VIP tickets to their concerts. Named after a widely loathed clerk at the grocery store where singer and general weirdo King Buzzo worked, the group started playing a mix of teenage favorites–Hendrix, the Who, and the ’80s hardcore punk canon. A few lineup changes later, they took a distinctive turn towards the slow, heavy, and droning, emerging as torchbearers for the nascent sludge-rock genre. With a guitar sound like sharpening an epoxy-covered pencil, funereal drums, and vocals somewhere between a blown speaker and a busted Lysol can, it’s fair to call them an antidote for New Wave. Their first two releases, “Six Songs” (subsequently expanded and re-released as “Eight Songs,” “10 Songs,” and “26 Songs”) and “Gluey Porch Treatments,” were regarded with particular reverence in Louisiana’s metal scene, inspiring bands like Eyehategod, Acid Bath, and Buzz*oven.

Fourteen albums later, the Melvins have plenty to show for it. There’s the Nike SB tribute sneakers, the Zippo lighters, and canned meat product. More importantly, there’s the affection of loyal fans. In addition to regular roadie-ing, Kurt Cobain auditioned to play bass. Though he was rejected, his support of the band at the height of Nirvana’s fame caught the hungry eyes of record executives, and the Melvins got an acrimonious three-record deal with Atlantic and any number of slots on the ’90s’ slew of alt-rock festivals. But the Melvins were never driving at mainstream appeal, and if their profile has been low in recent years, the critical consensus has only solidified in acclaiming the group. From amplifier-worshippers like Boris (who take their name from a Melvins song), Earth, and Sunn O))) to technical post-metalers Neurosis or Pelican, the Melvins have no shortage of sincere flatterers. Only a few of them, however, have achieved the feat of Big Business’s Coady Willis and Jared Warren–simultaneously being in a Melvins-inspired band, and being asked to join the Melvins themselves, where they now play drums and bass, respectively.

Itemizing the differences between the sludgeified, druggy abrasions of Big Business and the Melvins is a task best left to internet hairsplitters. One WHPK DJ summed the former up as “exercise music for stoners,” which perfectly captures their frantic bombast. Make no mistake–Big Business can cover the low end of the pitch spectrum, but they don’t neglect the riffage. Now a three-piece with guitarist Toshi Kasai, Big Business first recorded as an expertly-pedigreed power duo. Warren was in Amphetamine Reptile noise-rock heroes Karp, and Willis drummed for boozy garage punks the Murder City Devils. Their production values are superficially cleaner, but the effect is about the same as putting a plastic crown on a wino in the gutter, in spite of Phil Ek’s sainted efforts to hold them to the same bar as Built to Spill or Halo Benders. Nevertheless, Big Business has an optimistic feel, even if it’s apocalyptic at times. Given how few sludge/stoner/drone/doom bands can ever be described as “bouncy,” this is a welcome development. The $55 VIP tickets Reggies is selling guarantee seating for the Melvins; a message, perhaps, that Big Business demands pogoing.
Reggies Rock Club, 2109 S. State St. November 12. Thursday, 7pm. (312) 949-0212. $20, 21+.