Nutty Stuff 

Meet the slightly menacing pranksters of the Melvins

If your love of so-called alternative music began (and possibly ended) with Nirvana, chances are you’re familiar, at least by the name, with the Melvins and Flipper. If you showed up a little late in the game (the Melvins got together in 1983, when Flipper were already well on their way to wrack and ruin), it’s OK. You’re among friends. You’re not being graded.

But the similarities between the Melvins and Flipper don’t end with the fact that Sunshine Boy plumped extra hard for both bands—formative influences, don’t you know, as were the Meat Puppets and Black Flag—once Aberdeen’s second round of favorite sons broke everything the hell open with Nevermind. While the precise personal link between Flipper and the Melvins is unclear, it’s safe to say that the Melvins assumed the mantle of rock ’n’ roll intractability as soon as Flipper imploded in a monochrome non-starburst of bad vibes and ODs.

A favorite Flipper stunt was to sabotage the fuse box of the club they were playing a few songs into the show so they wouldn’t have to finish a complete set—but could still collect the money owed them. Likewise the Melvins, ever the slightly menacing pranksters, have been known to let their amps feed back for 45 minutes without actually playing a single song. A source close to the Independent tells of the time the Melvins did exactly that in front of an audience of three people until the police threatened to close the show down because of a noise complaint—at which time the band calmly sat down and played acoustic versions of most of the songs off the Cars’ Heartbeat City album. How punk can you get?

Apocryphal or not, there are scores of similar stories that fall under the same general heading: Nutty Stuff the Melvins Did at Their Show, or Nutty Stuff the Melvins Did When I Met Them, or Nutty Stuff I Ended Up Doing Myself. There’s really no point in doubting any of it, neither much fun to be had in doing so. The most cursory once-over of the Melvins discography—which is actually longer than the rap sheet the feds have got on Sammy “The Bull” Gravano—reveals a band that does exactly what it wants, when it wants, with the kind of headstrong autonomy other bands just wish they had to exercise when they strike their pathetic “full creative control” poses at corporate board meetings. Most recently, Ipecac Records has begun to release installments of a 3-CD “concept” trilogy, the third installment of which features a host of friends contributing their, erm, well, just read for yourself: Hank Williams III, Mike Patton, David Yow … even Leif Garrett singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Obviously, the Melvins’ brilliant sense of humor is matched only by their James Joyce-like desire to shake you at every turn.

But what should I expect this Saturday, you might be asking. And rightfully, reader, rightfully! Alas, one simply cannot say. The Melvins’ more fractious tendencies aside, they walloped The Cowboy Bar on their maiden Montana voyage last summer. Expect the unexpected. But that you should already know.

The Melvins play The Cowboy Bar this Saturday, April 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets $11. Flipper not included.

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