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Melvins, Napalm Death, Melt-Banana live at Boston, MA’s Paradise Rock Club

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Melvins and Napalm Death dubbed their co-headlining spring trek across North America the “Savage Imperial Death March Tour” – because honestly, what else would you call this insanity?

Across the dates, and particularly on April 16 in Boston, the Pacific Northwest metal weirdos and British grindcore pioneers brought their combined aural assault to venues that they likely wouldn’t have had much trouble filling individually (indeed, Melvins have headlined the Paradise a whopping nine times since 2008 according to Setlist.fm). With Japanese noise-punk duo Melt-Banana in tow for support, these shows truly did promise a spectacle – and deliver it.

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Melt-Banana’s opening set was a precision blast of technicolor rhythm and noise, both literally and figuratively. A side-stage projector intermittently cast vocalist Yasuko Onuki and guitarist Ichirou Agata in vibrant shades as they raced through a half-hour set of jackhammer pop. Onuki sang in earworm cadences and triggered drum machine patterns with a glowing remote control whilst Agata’s heavily processed guitar signal dodged and weaved through the mix. A mid-set suite of ultra-short songs, none topping a minute in length, were representative of the performance in microcosm: bright, brisk and leaving a crowd wanting more.

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Melvins then took the stage for an appropriately eclectic set spanning their own career and that of several other artists. The band’s current touring lineup sees permanent bandleader Buzz Osborne and percussionist extraordinaire Dale Crover joined by Steven McDonald of Redd Kross in the ever-rotating bassist slot, and the trio were in no particular mood to highlight any recent studio efforts under the Melvins moniker (of which there have already been two in 2016). Instead, they pulled from a repertoire that ranged from snapshots of their enormous back catalog – everything from Stoner Witch to Melvins & Lustmord to Kiss and Alice Cooper covers.

Clad in an eyeball-patterned garment, Osborne and his signature finger-in-a-light-socket hairdo enthusiastically churned out leaden riffs backed by Crover’s distinctly heavy percussion and the springboard energy of McDonald. Melvins have always been something of an anything-goes endeavor, willing to indulge all manner of bizarre ideas and collaborations over their 30-plus year history, and the performance had an off-the-cuff feel that reflected that spirit. The band exists at the experimental intersection of sludge, doom, hard rock and hardcore, and elements of all of that were on display. The set ran a bit short of a proper headlining, but the no-nonsense presentation crammed 15 songs (and snippets of others) into just over an hour. A consistent lineup has long been antithetical to the Melvins brand, but no alternating membership stopped them from performing with confident, ass-kicking efficiency befitting their legendary status.

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Though Melvins were perhaps the bigger name on the bill, the decision to hand off headlining duties to their British tourmates was a good one. In the tour’s press release, Osborne is quoted in describing Napalm Death’s sound as “a gorilla on LSD firing a machine gun…in a good way,” which effectively covers why even the Melvins wouldn’t want to follow up one of their sets. It took them a few (brief) songs to lock into a groove and a proper PA mix, but soon enough the quartet honed in on its explosive, breakneck-speed sound and proceeded to demolish the room. There had been a minimal amount of audience turnover once Melvins wrapped up, and the still-packed Paradise responded as one might expect. Stage-diving here – particularly for a security-heavy show with a stage-front barricade like this one – is nearly impossible, but more than one intrepid fan still managed the impressive feat of dashing down the balcony stairs and leaping over the shoulders of venue staff to do it anyway.

While longtime members Shane Embury and Danny Herrera held down the rhythm section (joined by a guest guitarist in place of the temporarily sidelined Mitch Harris), it was vocalist Barney Greenway who gave the band its magnetic charisma. Armed with an youthful stage presence and a thick Birmingham accent, Greenway alternately functioned as Napalm Death’s aggressive mouthpiece and affable spokesperson. Every burst of unrestrained fury he screamed song to song was matched with charming dialogue during the band’s occasional breathers. “[We’re] back once again to make a horrible fucking racket,” he playfully announced early in the set, and his addresses retained that tone as he skewered Donald Trump and organized religion, and jokingly demanded a shot of Grey Goose (which an audience member actually delivered), elsewhere.

Napalm Death wrapped things up after traversing from last year’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat all the way to 1987’s Scum and back again – with stops for Siege and Dead Kennedys covers in between. And with that, the sum of the evening’s experience left some 900 fans stumbling forth from the Paradise in awe.

Savage Imperial Death March indeed.

Melt Banana

Melvins

Napalm Death

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