Photo by DAN LONG
Three distinctive variations of “loud” were amply demonstrated last night at Underground Arts during the Philly stop of the Savage Imperial Death March Tour, featuring the wildly animated Melt-Banana, the seminal distorto-ooze of The Melvins, and break-neck intensity of Napalm Death. Playing to a sold-out crowd — a kinetic mash of beards, denim, and flannel — each band tested earplug limits and garnered high-contact physical responses, with bodies continually thrashing about for the show’s duration.
Preceded by a series of droid’ish bleeps and swaths of grinding guitar sound, Melt-Banana’s set was delivered with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed as the band rattled off songs, seemingly intent on squeezing as much din as possible into their thirty allotted minutes. Vocalist Yasuko Onuki took a moment to express how honored she and her counterpart, guitarist Ichirou Agata, were to be opening for The Melvins and Napalm Death and then followed with a block of six songs played in under three or four minutes. Amidst pulsing lights and smoke, the band finished their set with a blazing rendition of “Candy Gun” from 2013’s Fetch.
When the Melvins took the stage, the reception was prompt and exuberant. Devil horns were raised with pride once drummer Dale Crover made contact with his snare drum. Buzz Osbourne, dressed in a shiny gold circus costume decorated with fabric eyes, his signature tuft of fluffy white hair in all its glory, kicked off the set with “Eye Flys.” Sonically augmented with touring bassist Steve McDonald of Redd Kross and OFF! fame, The Melvins generated walls of riff and rumble, working through a solid selection of songs for an avid crowd. During a brief moment of quiet, Buzz greeted “the City of Brotherly SHOVE” before launching into “The Kicking Machine.” A couple audience members produced glo-sticks and tossed them across the room, instigating some rounds of back-and-forth while the middle of the floor remained a sweaty maelstrom of writhing bodies. Before exiting, all three Melvins gave a bow while a recording of their version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the new album, Basses Loaded, scored their exit.
Three songs into Napalm Death’s set, frontman Barney Greenway announced, “We are Napalm Death from Birmingham, England!” Initially guitars were barely audible next to the vocals and drums, but the sound mix was eventually corrected and the chaos that ensued had a suitably deafening gravitas. Napalm Death’s onslaught was considerable, the shock of continual blast beats punching my chest as Greenway paced across the stage, growling through songs like “Dear Slum Landlord…,” “Scum,” “Suffer the Children” and “Mentally Murdered.” The band also covered “Conform” by Seige and “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” by the Dead Kennedys, much to the crowd’s delight. Before closing out their set, Greenway parted with, “Take care of yourselves and everyone around you,” and group commenced with its final assault on hearing. — SEAN CALDWELL