Sleep and Melvins Live at the Fonda Theater in LA
Photos by Jay Valena
Sleep and Melvins are both legendary acts credited with some of the heaviest riffs laid to disc. Melvins has amassed their reputation on the back of one of the most prolific discographies in rock. Sleep earned their iconic status off of a trio of seminal stoner-doom slabs. It was not surprising when this double-bill of rumbling power sold out Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre for two nights in a row.
Melvins was birthed out of the 1980’s Pacific Northwest punk scene. But since the late 1990’s, guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover have called Los Angeles home. Crover was only half-joking during the band’s opening set on January 28 when he quipped “we’re a local band.” The Los Angeles scene has long accepted Melvins as one of their own. This was evident by the full room and the warm response when the stage curtains lifted to start Saturday night’s festivities.
It is impossible for Melvins to touch on their entire discography within a one-hour set. The audience on Saturday night was very pleased nonetheless with the variety that was covered. The band bounced back and forth throughout their discography from 1990’s Houdini (“Hag Me”) to 2014’s Hold It In (“Onions Make The Milk Taste Bad”) and multiple points in between. As always, Melvins threw in a few irreverent sludged-out covers for good measure, this time in the form of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and Alice Cooper’s “Halo of Flies”.
Melvins kept stage banter to a minimum and plowed straight into the next set of riffs once a song ended. Bassist Steve McDonald (also of L.A. punk rockers Redd Kross and OFF!) made for an excellent addition to the live Melvins lineup, stalking the stage with a frenetic energy throughout the set. Osborne and Crover focused on bringing the heavy as usual, with Crover added extra spark by dismantling his entire drum kit at the end of the set, leaving the stage amidst piles of cymbals strewn across the Fonda Theatre stage.
Sleep took the stage after a 30-minute intermission. It is a testament to the staying power of Volume One, Holy Mountain, and Jerusalem/Dopesmoker that there is still buzz every time bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (Om), guitarist Matt Pike (High on Fire), and drummer Jason Roeder (Neurosis) come through town to hammer out their classic riffs again. A different type of buzz also filled the room on Saturday night as mounds of marijuana smoke filled every corner of the room when Sleep started their set.
The aromatic scent of leafy green was appropriate window dressing as Sleep once again did justice to their influential discography in the live setting. The hypnosis of classic songs such as “Holy Mountain” and “Dragonaut” was capably replicated. The band’s sparse lighting and stage setup – mainly consisting of the band and a couple stacks of amps – meant that the focus was on the thunderous riffs being generated. There are no surprises during a Sleep set at this point, as the requisite standards off of Holy Mountain and an abridged Dopesmoker were presented for doom-lovers to absorb one more time.
The trio’s live performances put into perspective the musicianship behind the heaviness. Roeder was a perfect addition to the band’s touring lineup when he joined in 2010, raining down with the same amount of power he has given to Neurosis throughout their career. Cisneros and Pike expertly guided along the subtle chord changes as their sprawling compositions ambled along and reinforced Sleep’s musical output’s stature as a go-to even as many acts have come and gone in the years since their original dissolution.