Ipecac Records Geek Show
Irving Plaza – New York, NY
May 23, 2003
Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy May 30, 2003
It is only due to the wonders of two very small, bright orange earplugs that I am not completely deaf right now.
The ear-threatening volume of the Ipecac Records jetset blew right into the rain-stricken gloom of New York City last week, leaving spectators to marvel at just how much the walls of Irving Plaza could tremble with the sounds of roaring guitars, pounding rhythm sections, and Mike Patton’s infamous sideshow slideshow of vocal stylings.
Last Friday, Patton and company exploded during the finale to a much-anticipated, several-day stint at Irving, with four Ipecac acts and one surprise special guest playing to a sold-out crowd.
The Trevor Dunn Trio started the night out with a more eclectic, less distorted, and less aggressive set than what most expected from the trio’s Ipecac counterparts, treating the audience to a half-hour offering of rhythmic, angular rock and free-jazz compositions.
While Dunn has received the most notoriety for his work with Mr. Bungle and Fantomas, the group of his namesake sounded less like a colorful or furious exercise in post-modern pastiche than it did a free-form experiment in disjointed verses and planned dissonance.
The jagged electric guitar and bass of Dunn’s trio sounded alternately like they were racing and attempting to catch up with each other, giving choruses and refrains where the trio stopped on a dime or crashed together a sense of tremendous impact. The sound was sort of a mutant jazz hybrid of Don Caballaro, Big Lazy, and The Reverend Horton Heat, with Dunn leading the way as his fingers dashed and darted feverishly around the fretboard of his upright bass.
While a studio recording of this material could reveal a taught and edgy underbelly, the live chemistry lent the songs a kind of drunken, improvised energy. The whole band seemed to be working from notation, but they also seemed to have the audience convinced that they were wandering lost through the proceedings and loving it.
The intricacies of Trevor Dunn and his cohorts bled right into emo/uber-rock act Isis, which turned the volume up to 10 and cranked out a full set of methodical but emotive numbers built around a brooding core of electric guitars, bass, and keyboard.
Though far from the best received band of the evening, the crowds front and center seemed to respond to the guttural roars of Isis’ frontman, and the band seemed more than willing to thrash around and follow suit. As more than a few people waited for the Melvins to take stage, however, a good handful of Isis’ songs seemed to sound the same, more than a slight curse on a five-band bill.
Japanese noise quartet Melt Banana jumped into Friday night’s rotation, without warning or notice, offering a surprised crowd a noisy blast of a musical interlude before the Melvins took stage.
Far from out of their element, Melt Banana raced through their explosive mix of lightning-fast punk and noise-rock, an indication perhaps of what an old Nintendo game would sound like if it were providing the backbeat to Armageddon. This male-female outfit — whose guitarist came equipped with a facemask to stunt the spread of SARS, perchance — was clearly out to stun the audience and leave them dazed but hungry for more.
Though playing with volatile time signatures and crazed stop-start shifts in their songs that could have knocked most chorus-conscious rock bands off their feet, Melt Banana lit up Irving with a kind of buzzsaw energy and precision.
As ever and as always, the Melvins — for whom the earplugs definitely came out — were incredible live, filling all expectations for those who have seen them in the past.
On record, the band is lean and venomous and composed but also immense, a thunderstorm of a rock band who never fail to line their rock-punk-metal offerings with some dark humor or tongue-in-cheek playfulness. Live, they can be all this and more, exploding with sound in every direction, drummer Dale Crover, bassist Kevin Rutmanis, and the ever-popular King Buzzo displaying an incredible volume and chemistry as they rocket through song after song after song, almost constantly without pause.
In short, pig don’t let it.
The band’s set on Friday included more than its fair share of songs from the fairly recent Hostile Ambient Takeover, including “Ol’ Black Stooges” and a vicious take on “Foaming.”
(Those waiting for “Dr. Geek” had to go back to their car stereos to get a listen.)
In their hour-long noise-fest, the band also included pieces that have seemingly become mainstays in their sets – many from their Atlantic/Mammoth years — like “Night Goat,” “Revolve,” and “The Bit.” Every time you hear them, they get better.
(While I — like many — continue to listen to the band’s live version of “Charmicarmicat” from the K. comp, I’m still waiting for the Melvins to take stage one of these days and play Gluey Porch Treatments start to finish. Where is Mr. Matt Lukin when we need him?)
After a lengthy break — possibly to allow Melvins and Tomahawk bassist Rutmanis to pause and catch his breath — Tomahawk took the stage and, even compared to the monstrous performance of the Melvins, tore down the place, as the expression goes.
Mixing up familiar tracks from their self-titled debut with slabs from their latest offering, Mit Gas, Tomahawk came through as one of the most intense but professional rock bands out there today. Listening to Patton scream and wail and roar — with the aid of three microphones, countless effect pedals and gadgets, and keyboards — you’re reminded of why this guy used to front one of the biggest rock bands of their day.
While I did not see Faith No More perform live until near the group’s demise in late 1997, one has to wonder if they ever sounded this incredible on the road.
Forget the earplugs, brother.
Duane Denison, his chops still razor sharp even after the end of his Jesus Lizard days, was in top form, and John Stanier and Rutmanis proved that they did more than provide Tomahawk with its rock-solid backbone.
Patton was vintage Patton, half lunatic carnival barker and half velvet-voiced crooner, and he was able to replicate even the most complicated and dense passages from the band’s growing catalog.
But, have we come to expect anything else, really?
As the night rolled to a close, Patton engaged in light patter with the crowd, mocking us for screaming every time he said the words “New York.” Closing with a track from their first LP, Tomahawk blazed into a meltdown of feedback, Stanier slamming away while Denison dropped to his knees, repeatedly tapping the neck of his guitar and putting his hands together in prayer as he swayed back and forth.
Wait, was this a show for geeks or a push for a bit of conversion?
I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one to sign his name on the dotted line.