It's nice to see this latest lineup of the Melvins becoming a more cohesive group. At the Black Cat on Sunday, they demonstrated that after a couple of years playing together, they play together better, work off each other more. Yet that comfort zone has them veering into the more experimental territory they headed to in the late '90s and fully embraced early this decade. When this four piece assembled for the recording of their first album together, last year's "(A) Senile Animal," they came away with an album and sound similar to their classic early-to-mid-'90s heyday, probably the result of Melvins lifers Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover teaming up with Melvins fans -- Big Business' Jared Warren and Coady Willis. A year later, the Melvins' set was uneven, split in two, starting with concise hard rock before drifting into plodding jams.
But first, let's get down to Big Business. Singer/bassist Warren (ex-Karp, Tight Bros from Way Back When) and drummer Willis (Murder City Devils) expanded to a trio for this tour, adding a guitarist, which allowed Warren to focus on the low end and not worry so much about filling out the sound of a metal duo. The music remains based in sludge metal and stoner rock, similar Melvins-inspired territory Warren traveled in Karp, but it was so much thicker and weightier than old, and by embracing a wider musical territory, '70s cock rock and hardcore to name a pair, Big Business has found a more unique and original sound. And Willis' drumming is top notch. He's nonstop power and creativity with very little filler. The set was power and noise and beautiful anger throughout, but it was on the last three or four songs where it really began to soar. Those last few songs were brimming with more melody, more drama and more tense energy. And Melvins drummer Crover's appearance on guitar to finish off the set meant the guitars finally stood out, offering searing solos in addition to distorted noise. Big Business always pulled off the drummer/guitarist heavy metal duo thing to perfection, but with guitars in the fold, the two-man lineup now feels like a novelty.
Next, Big Business took the stage as the Melvins' rhythm section. Early in the set, the band covered "I Want to Hold Your Hand," once again showing a D.C. audience how a Beatles song can be a rock song. It was a quick rendition before "Civilized Worm," the most memorable track off of "(A) Senile Animal." And the live reading lived up to the recording's hype, adding a little more to the guitar solo and the hoped for extra bombast throughout. It's not just a return to pre-ambient-experimentation Melvins; it is a flat out great rock 'n' roll song with King Buzzo's infectious bloozey riffing. And preserved impeccably were the dueling drummer segments. This is maybe the most impressive element of the current lineup. Crover is already a mad genius on his kit. Asking a second drummer to sit in and keep up is laughable, but Willis pulled it off.
The set included a couple of old favorites. "Lizzy," for one, stood out, with its soft-heavy/quiet-loud/mellow-hostile dynamic as powerful as ever, but the second half showcased some of the best stuff from "(A) Senile Animal." And the band started to stretch out the songs. This is a metal band prone to jams, but on this night, the jams were less intricate and busy, more plodding and dark. They were more percussive, which should be expected with a two-drummer lineup, but even the drumming was restrained -- creative and exploratory, too, but more tribal experimentation than balls-to-the-wall rock. Then, one is left to wonder why Willis' octopus fury wasn't unleashed as it was in Big Business' set. It's not so that Crover can keep up, because he's definitely got the skills and more. And although Buzzo's presence is slightly less -- he lets Warren share in the singing and bows more to the percussion -- he is still the Melvins signature sound. His vocal range, from metal howl to creepy cartoon voice to loud whisper to throaty croon -- is as staggering as his complex, intricate riff structure is unmatched. And despite the dragging finish to the show, "Senile Animal" songs "Rat-Faced Granny," "The Hawk" and "A History of Bad Men" cashed in on the promise of their studio versions even if they stayed past their welcome.