One Power-Filled Alternative

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The Chicago Sun-Times, October 18, 1993 Jim DeRogatis

TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS after the release of Nevermind, the rock world is still witnessing the results of the major-label feeding frenzy that followed Nirvana's startling success. The major record companies are releasing more weird, creative, and uncompromising music than at any point since the New Wave '70s. At the same time much of what's being marketed as alternative is nothing more than the same old garbage in hip new packaging.

Saturday's capacity show at the Aragon Ballroom offered one band from each camp. The Melvins are so wonderfully abrasive that it's hard to believe anyone would encourage them to make an album, much less Atlantic Records. In stark contrast, the members of Primus are just progressive-rock wankers in thrift-store clothing.

The Melvins formed in 1984 in Nirvana's hometown of Aberdeen, Washington. Kurt Cobain used to haul their equipment, and drummer Dale Crover played with Nirvana early on. Naturally, the group was signed to a major label soon after Nirvana went Platinum, and Cobain was recruited to co-produce their new album, Houdini.

The similarities between the bands end there. Houdini sounds like a Black Sabbath 45 left out in the sun then played at 33 R.P.M. In terms of its perversity, it makes Nirvana's In Utero sound like Blind Melon.

The trio is even more harsh onstage. Creating an ominous wall of sound with tidal waves of fuzz guitar, violent bass rumblings, and plodding dinosaur drums, the Melvins are loud and powerful in a way that listeners feel physically. This is music that makes breathing difficult, and it's probably hazardous to pregnant women and people with heart conditions.

Guitarist-vocalist Buzz Morrison took the stage with his trademark Eraserhead hair, a T-shirt bearing a word I can't use in the newspaper, and a stack of four Marshall amplifiers (one of which was decorated with "Mofo" written in the style of "Zoso," the cryptic legend on Led Zeppelin IV). Crover sat behind an oversized drum set, naked but for a pair of red panties, and bassist Mark Deutrom mugged it up beneath a giant cowboy hat. The air was still vibrating with the force of their forty-five minute earthquake when roadies cleared the stage for Primus, the nominal headliners.

Primus combines the worst aspects of Rush and Frank Zappa, playing indulgent prog-rock with a smarmy sense of humor. Tim Alexander took a solo on his massive drums only three songs into the set, Les Claypool bumbled around the stage playing lead bass, and Guitarist Larry LaLonde simply bumbled.

Despite some funny background films, the San Francisco trio was even more obnoxious and boring than it was during Lollapalooza '93. At least then you could duck out for a smart drink.


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