Chalk & Cheese: Sleep & Melvins play Sold-Out Show at Fonda Theatre

Review & photos by Andrew Bansal

Note: For the sake of ticket holders for show #2 tonight (January 28th), we have avoided set list spoilers altogether in this review

January 27th 2017, Fonda Theatre, Hollywood CA: Northern California stoner doom giants Sleep recently announced two nights at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood with Melvins as the support act, and tickets were completely sold out almost instantly. The first of the two shows took place last night, Friday January 27th. Ticket holders lined up early, and for many, the biggest challenge was to time the cannabis intake so it would hit at the right moment, and Goldenvoice posting the set times on the afternoon of the show certainly helped in that regard. As it turned out, those that did line up before 8 PM can consider themselves lucky because they got to witness two bands that couldn’t have been any more different from each other.

Doors opened at 8, and the line was moving unusually slow, as the venue staff had established only one entry/security check point even though the number of people in line for this sold-out event easily warranted for more. Some ticket holders were complaining because they missed almost the entirety of Melvins’ hour-long set despite arriving at the venue before its scheduled start. Lessons to be learnt here are, venues should consider multiple entry/check points for sold-out shows, and on the other hand, ticket holders should also try to arrive extra early when large crowds are anticipated.

Buzz Osborne (Melvins)

Melvins did start 15 minutes later than scheduled, most probably to allow more people to enter the building and not miss the set. They played to a sizable gathering, and what transpired on stage for the 60 minutes they were on it proved the sheer class and pedigree of this band. The trio of Buzz Osborne (guitar), Steven Shane McDonald (bass) and Dale Crover (drums) played a set of songs that fit the theme of the evening, i.e. they put aside the experimental/sludge/noise elements and focused this performance along the stoner rock lines.

They started slow and built it up gradually, but once they hit their groove, the set flowed brilliantly. They mapped out their one hour of music to absolute perfection, transitioning to faster instrumental passages towards the end and closing the set on a high. They showcased undeniable mastery in amplification, and even with their relatively minimal setup, were the louder of the two bands here. But the beauty of this Melvins performance was the clarity of each instrument, resulting from the tones they’ve experted through decades of experimentation. The richness and melody of the guitar and bass was such that it gave the illusion of a two-guitar setup, and Dale Crover’s antics on drums were second to none. Most notable was the three-pronged vocal attack as all three members delivered the goods on that front, Buzz Osborne extracting the very best from his singing voice.

There is no doubt that this was a predominantly Sleep-loving crowd and the headline act deserved their spot. But the solid red lighting was just about the only stationary element of the Melvins performance, and such was the dynamism and craftiness, in an alternate universe they would be rightfully headlining this event, as some attendees were left wondering why they didn’t in fact headline this one. “Less is more”, they say, but in some cases, more is indeed more.

Matt Pike (Sleep)

At 11 PM, the stage curtain lifted ever so slowly, perhaps extra slow to get in sync with the speed of the music that was to follow. The trio of guitarist Matt Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros and drummer Jason Roeder, better known as Sleep, took their positions and began their indulgence in slow-motion Sabbath worship. The ambiance was set as the crowd collectively exhaled a massive cloud of cannabis smoke before letting themselves fall in deep Sleep. This, of course, is a band that came into existence almost a decade before Matt Pike’s other three-piece stoner metal project High On Fire. To those familiar with the latter and not the former, Sleep may even come across as High On Fire massively slowed down, with Cisneros on vocals instead of Pike.  But for others, Sleep is the ultimate stoner rock band that made Sabbath worship cool and influenced a whole generation that came after them, for which they continue to garner the love and respect they deserve, through sold-out shows such as this one.

Sleep and Melvins both being three-piece bands was the only similarity they shared, because to say that the Sleep set was the complete opposite to Melvins’ would be an early contender for understatement of the year. But in all honesty, the two bands were so distant from each other that it wouldn’t even be fair to compare the two and cite which one was better, or who “won”.

The bottom line is, the audience here is grateful to have witnessed two mega-influential bands still putting on shows that deem them worthy of their stature.

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