Houdini Live 2005: A Live History of Gluttony and Lust
The folks that run the All Tomorrow's Parties rock festival franchise have done much to breath some life into the hoary old tradition of camping out in the mud with a million people to not-really-hear a band with 100,000 other people by introducing the concept of curation to it - engaging an artist or group to pick the roster so that the festival creates a different viewpoint. I don't exactly know how well it works since The Fall and Boredoms usually are included amongst a smattering of up and comers but then, I'd have those bands play at both my wedding and funeral were I given the choice.
Another smarty-arty move is to invite bands to get up and recreate their classic albums in concert. Iggy and the Stooges did it with Fun House, and upcoming concerts by Low, Teenage Fanclub and Green on Red (now that takes me back) show that business is booming. At some point, the members of Seattle's seed band Melvins were caught between bong hits and lines of battery acid and coaxed into recasting their "grunge classic" Houdini in this environment, and they tentatively accepted, resulting in this before-a-small-studio-audience recording.
Houdini was an interesting album in the tenuous history of Grunge, since Melvins were almost universally cited as the thing that drove most of the bands therein to create (when they weren't lining up to give credibility-enriching blowjobs to Neil Young) and this album was borne aloft on the shoulders of the more popular children that band had sired. Thing is, I never liked Grunge except for Nirvana and a smattering of songs here and there) but the Melvins have always captured by ear. Strangely belligerent and cro-mag is their take on rock, yet somehow they insert a conceptual rigor that even the Butthole Surfers could never realize, and this new Houdini 2005 furthers that end.
The band had to go back and completely relearn a brace of songs that were never intended to be played live, and the results push the band's myriad of influences to the surface. There are savage Birthday Party-esque drunken bouts like "Hooch" and sizzling slabs of dark meat like "Night-Goat," Viking-stout anthems like "Going Blind" and algebraic post-punk rockers like "Sky Pup."
The real success here is demonic sneer-over-an-idling-death-engine "Joan of Arc" which commences with an unrelenting fuzz-clubbing that gets better with every blow. Its classic Melvins (well, it actually is classic melvins in the timeline sense, when you think about it) that not only makes you want to bang your head, but you want to bang it on something, until it goes all the way through. Just brilliant. I only hope they see fit recast Stoner Witch with a backing orchestra of Black Metal guitarists having a dirt-bike race to the death.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
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