The Melvins - Sugar Daddy Live (Ipecac)

01 Nov 2012

“As live albums go this is obviously incredible – the Melvins are a unparalleled live band at the worst of times, and especially so with this line-up.  And although to my ears their shows don’t do justice to their abilities as exceptional experimental musicians, the foresight and clear thinking that has gone into Sugar Daddy Live more than makes up for it...”; release – 2011

+F

As a general rule, I don’t like live albums.

The first Melvins dream[1] I had – I must have been about eighteen – was about meat. Anyone who knows the Melvins well knows they like meat: “have you ever only eaten what’s alive?” Buzz asks in ‘Lovely Butterflies’[2], a song about eating various types of meat - including butterflies.

I’m a vegetarian.

In the dream I went over Buzz’s house, which was over the road.  It was a small dishevelled semi-detached property with faded wallpaper.  We were in the kitchen where there were knives hanging from the walls, covered in blood stains. I sat on his knee whilst he talked to me in a very sinister whisper about cutting flesh, with an expression that was at once bitter and repressed and at the same time menacing in anticipation. All the while I sat there on his knee trying to explain to him in a cool and nonchalant kind of way that just because I’m vegetarian doesn’t mean I’m like some flower hugging liberal or something.  I fail badly; Buzz just grins and salivates.

There is no logical connection here, but I guess the point is that regardless of my feelings about live albums, I have no choice but to pay attention to this one.

On the first listen I am getting too caught-up with deviations from the recorded versions of the songs – I am that sort of person – but already by the end of the album I have to acknowledge that this is a wonderful track-listing. Given their last normal[3] live album – Alive At The Uncle Fucker Club– was recorded in 1997, you might expect this to be a mixture of material from the nine albums they have released since then.  Yet Sugar Daddy Live is mostly comprised of tracks that appear on (A) Senile Animal and Nude With Boots. It works out for the best, because these are the songs they were playing well at the time they recorded it, and they are all amazing songs which fit together perfectly.  They could have opted for more commercial songs from these two albums, ‘The Talking Horse’ for example does not appear on Sugar Daddy Live although it was the lead song from (A) Senile Animal. ‘Dog Island’ and ‘Dies Irae’ are two of the most interesting songs from Nude With Boots, but both also work excellently live - listening to them here is testament to the fact that when you go and see Melvins you don’t just get straight up rock shows.

That being said, the sound that the Melvins tend to go for live is a much rougher, faster version of their album recordings: the sound on this album is very similar to Alive At The Uncle Fucker Club, which has an absolutely terrifyingly fast version of ‘Mombius Hibachi’ on it.  It’s amazing if you’re there, and once you get used to it on CD it is really enjoyable, but for me it’s still ultimately a shame that they don’t always come across as quite the experimental band they are proven to be on record.

Not only do they not always play their more experimental tracks, but when they do play the very slow or stripped back songs they sometimes lose a bit of the tension on the recording: you get the impression that from constant touring the Melvins sometimes want to race through their set in order to get a decent night’s sleep before they fly off to another part of the world and play their next show. If you listen to my favourite Melvins live album Your Choice Live from 1991 – an album that, incidentally, the Melvins don’t like – then you get a good idea of just how shocking and groundbreaking their shows once were: the venues are smaller; the Melvins are younger; and they haven’t been flattened by the constant international touring that came from being on Atlantic. None of this the Melvins can help, but the really irritating thing is that I have proof that they can still play like this: anyone who was at Butlins in 2006 to see some of the first shows with Coady and Jarred and wasn’t blown sideways is a prick. Of the countless times I have seen the Melvins, this was by far and the best I have seen them - seeing them twice in two days was a no-brainer, and I wish so much that I had a recording of that gig. It was perfect. I, personally, would rather wait twice as long and pay twice as much for a Melvins show if I knew that I could see them play like that again.

One live album deserving of real love is Swans Are Dead by Swans, and  was very pleased to read recently to find out that around the time that the Melvins wrote ‘Eye Flys’, which appears on this album they were listening to a lot of Swans.   It shows, but the real crowning jewel to this album that makes it a must for Melvins fans is the incredible re-working of ‘Boris’ - this is Melvins at their experimental best, a monolithic slow metal classic to start with that has here been given a bizarre layered ending that adds an exciting twist to the original.

Another of my Melvins dreams involves me winning a prize to have Buzz stay at my house.  In my room. In the dream I have a bunk-bed.  Buzz takes the bottom bunk and I take the top (I believe in a real life scenario this is actually how the bunks would be dealt, and I also think we would be both be happier this way - whether Buzz would kick my bunk from underneath I cannot say). Buzz proceeds to analyse my music collection, picking on Korn albums whilst I plead that I bought them when I was fourteen, and the electronica which I can only defend by saying ‘well it’s actually really very good’, ‘and not how you would expect at all’ – of course Buzz doesn’t listen (he can be like that sometimes).

As live albums go this is obviously incredible – the Melvins are a unparalleled live band at the worst of times, and especially so with this line-up.  And although to my ears their shows don’t do justice to their abilities as exceptional experimental musicians, the foresight and clear thinking that has gone into Sugar Daddy Live more than makes up for it.

 

 



[1] I was as worried about this phenomena as you are until one day a friend confessed to me that he had had a dream in which the Melvins were in a bus that got driven off a cliff, and that it really affected him.

[2] From Honky and reworked on Electroretard.

[3] This vague qualification is to cover the fact that their last live album Pick your battles that appeared on the front of Manchild 4, containing live recordings from 1989 and 2008, was only limited availability, I also discount the Houdini Live album because it is all songs from Houdini, and therefore not normal.

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