The most punk thing about punk is that punk can mean so many, many things. It is an amorphous concept that even I don’t dare pretend to fully comprehend. But when you know it, you know it. And the Melvins with Le Butcherettes at Crescent Ballroom was pretty fucking punk.
People seemed already sloshed when I got there, approximately 40 minutes before the show. The crowd was restless, yelling, a mob of people dressed in nothing but black. But it was packed, if not sold out, on a Tuesday night, so that was great.
Le Butcherettes took the stage, with Teri Gender Bender singing briefly in Spanish, which was beautiful, before slamming her keyboard, shooting out her trademark distorted organs on “Burn the Scab.” By the time she started into her second song, “Demon Stuck In Your Eye,” I felt myself tense up with strange and thrilling energy. She was already thrashing about in a red lace dress, bouncing all over the stage, the definition of unbridled rage channeled through her organ with distinctly demented circus vibes.
Teri was just as vicious with her guitar, sometimes switching between her two instruments, sometimes playing both at once with equal frenzy. You’d think Teri hated her instruments the way she looked like she was trying to strangle them. It was hard determining which she was better at. She never held on to one for very long before bursting into a schizo spit fit. The effect was especially felt on songs like “The Leibniz Language,” where she would shout “Bruno was a classic!” before grinning psychotically.
The rest of her band – Chris Common on drums and Jamie Aux on bass – were dressed in red like Teri. It was impressive that they could keep up with Teri amidst all her lunges and tumbles. Le Butcherettes had a more sparse, garage rock approach than their recorded albums, which I thought was appropriate. Personally, I like both approaches.
At one point, Teri began ripping her tights while pawing at her crotch. Immediately, someone tried to snap a photo, but she yelped and spun away, still not missing a beat of the song.
Then, some fucking creep yelled, “Show me your titties.” Teri didn’t hesitate. She raised her arms high, brought her guitar crashing down on her keyboard, and leapt into the crowd. “Get that motherfucker out of here,” she snarled. While security flashed their lights, apparently unable to find the asshole, Teri walked around the crowd, singing.
People cheered and shouted encouragement and you could tell her bandmates had no clue what to do. Finally, she climbed back on stage and began smashing the drum kit. She began singing a song with lyrics along the lines of, “You want to see my titties? I’ll show you everything.” It seemed to be a song Teri had made up on the spot. She began smacking the drums so angrily, before saying some more in Spanish, mentioning the Melvins being up next, and storming off stage. Her energy earlier was fierce, but she was infuriated. And rightly so.
This is why we can’t have nice things, Phoenix. Seriously, fuck you, random misogynist dude. Why does shit like this always happen at shows? At least Le Butcherettes seem to know how to handle how awful people are in this city. I hope they don’t swear us off just because of one fucker, who probably moved here from the Midwest or something anyway.
The Melvins, on the other hand, gave us no breathing room. From the moment a crackling, coughing laughter began looping to the moment they threw down their instruments, they were creating some kind of sludgy noise.
It was incredible, to say the least. I’d heard how good The Melvins are live, but you kind of expect to be let down a little. Maybe it’s the band’s age – they have been around since ’83 – but while everyone playing had plenty of gray hair, they didn’t look old, if that makes sense. They looked timeless – like wizards. Only, they were murderous wizards. Buzz Osborne (on guitar) appeared to have escaped from a UFO while Jeff Pinkus (on bass) looked like the kind of awesome uncle who goes fishing using dynamite. (Sorry, Dale Crover, it was hard to see you in the back so I don’t have a dumb metaphor for you.)
The whole ordeal was sludgy as fuck, but it was also incredibly eclectic. There were so many good headbanging moments that left me wish I had longer hair, but also plenty of punk rousers and psychedelic ooze. And the endless friction only built up. I slowly saw a mosh pit begin to widen as the Melvins briefly became more prog rock, incorporating some deadly country twang before dissolving it all into cataclysmic feedback. I might have even heard some Meatloaf influence in there, but it’s hard to tell.
During the Melvins’ cover of Butthole Surfers’ “Moving to Florida,” some idiot jumped on stage looking proud of himself and wearing a huge smile. No one seemed to want to catch him if he stagedived. Someone, either the band or security, yelled,” Get off the stage, idiot!” And so the guy dived into the crowd, who reluctantly caught him.
“Are you guys done?” King Buzzo asked the crowd. Then, they started the song over from the beginning.
But Buzzo didn’t seem all that irritated. He’s also seemed to me to be such a chill guy, with monk-like patience and a Zen look in his eyes. He was completely blissed out on his golden guitar as he slipped between power-chord punk, doom metal, and psychedelic, sitar-like grooves.
During an extended drum solo, Teri tumbled back on stage to sing with the band. Her mood didn't look that much better. This time, she was wearing a red bank robber mask and a silky, scarlet cape. She sang with the band for “Stick ‘Em Up Bitch” and a cover of “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill.
According to the band’s website, after this show, the Melvins and Le Butcherettes will take a month-long break before hitting the road again. What a weird note to end things on. While it certainly had its frustrating moments, it was also relentless and incredibly exhausting, in a good way. I hope these guys come back soon, even if Phoenix doesn't deserve it.
Troy Farah is on Twitter. That's, like, totally not punk.
Last Night: The Melvins, Le Butcherettes at Crescent Ballroom
The Crowd: A swarming sea of black. More scuzz, less punk.
Overheard: "You missed it, man. Whether you like the band or not, you missed."
Personal Bias: I'm not as familiar with the Melvins' discography as I would like, but one thing is for certain: I have nothing but respect for those guys.