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51 states, 51 shows: Melvins traveling lite

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Melvins - SUBMITTED PHOTO

“Weird” and “unconventional” are adjectives often used to describe the Melvins.

Since 1983, the Pacific Northwest collective has inspired legions of hardened outliers with its genre-bending mix of stoner/sludge rock, punk and metal — and befuddled everyone else. It’s been done through a bewildering mix of incarnations — singer-guitarist Buzz Osborne has been the only constant since the beginning — and projects.

The latest is Melvins Lite. Aside from longtime drummer Dale Crover, it includes Trevor Dunn, an avant-garde bassist from the ranks of Fantomas and Mr. Bungle who adds a liquid, freeform jazz sensibility to the Melvins Lite album Freak Puke.

The trio has settled on an audacious way of promoting it. They’re attempting to break the Guinness World Record for fastest tour by a band in the United States and District of Columbia, with 51 concerts in 51 days. It started Sept. 5 in Anchorage, Alaska, hits The Vogue in Indianapolis on Saturday and ends Oct. 25 in Honolulu. The trek also marks the first time the Melvins have ever performed in Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Delaware.

“We wanted to do something ridiculous,” Osborne said by phone during a July tour stop in Portland, Ore. The Melvins were “warming up” for their record attempt by conducting a cross-country jaunt through Canada and the Northwest.

Osborne admits the Guinness idea is his, though he’s not really sure where it came from.

“Now we just have to do it,” he said. “It’s one thing to say you’re going to do it. Now you have to actually do it.”
To prepare, Osborne said, “We’re going to eat pizza and drink a lot of beer right before the tour.” But seriously, the only plan is to travel light and take it easy — except when they’re on stage.

“That will make it a little easier,” Osborne said. “But you still have to play the shows. And the shows won’t be any different.”

Who knows? — perhaps the inevitable exhaustion from such a schedule will spur some sort of strange new inspiration for the Melvins.

“Maybe I’ll come up with something even stupider to do,” Osborne said.

For now he’s just glad to share the experience with Dunn. The two play together in Mike Patton’s surreal-sounding project Fantomas, but Melvins Lite is the first collaboration they control. The Melvins have been called many things in their nearly three-decade existence, but “evil cocktail jazz” has to be new to the canon.

“There’s only so many hours in a day,” Osborne said, explaining why it took so long to formally work with Dunn. They also toured together when Dunn’s project Trio-Convulsant opened for the Melvins on a 2004 tour, which included a show at The Patio.

“We had to find time for it,” Osborne said. “I got inspired to do it, and once that happened we went from there. It’s a lot different from what we normally do. He’s a much different player from what we’ve ever played with. And he laughs at all my jokes, which is amazing.”

Jazz is one element that’s never really been part of the Melvins’ repertoire. Osborne says it’s not something he specifically sought, but “I’m not afraid of it, that’s for sure.”

As with their myriad other bizarre experiments, Melvins fans seem fine with this latest detour.Melvins Lite was 17 shows in when Osborne and I spoke, and audiences had been receptive. Indeed, it’s a cliché when artists say they have the most loyal fan base. In the Melvins’ case, it may be about as true as it gets.

“I appreciate everyone that likes our band,” Osborne said. “I couldn’t be happier about it.”

Perhaps that helps explain why the Melvins have survived in such a cutthroat industry for so long. Osborne can’t really say, other than philosophizing, “there’s a fine line between genius and stupidity.”

Even if the Melvins were no longer viable enough to tour nationally and internationally and release new material commercially, Osborne would still be playing music — something he’s done full-time since high school. What else is he going to do?

Besides, he’s still as inspired by the creative process as he was when the Melvins started while still matriculating at Montesano (Wash.) Jr./Sr. High School. Osborne is reminded of Bob Gibson, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, who once said he knew it was time to retire when he found himself thinking about what he was going to do after the game while still on the mound.

“I still like doing it,” Osborne said of his craft. “If I’m ever standing on stage thinking about something else when I’m supposed to be playing music, maybe then it’ll be time to quit.”

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