The Freaks Come Out Early for the Melvins, Napalm Death and More at Numbers
Photos by Violeta Alvarez
Arriving to Numbers at 5:30 p.m. on Friday night, er afternoon, set me off a little. Early door times are a killer for everyone and there was no way I was going to miss the opener. With no time to grab dinner and having to fight the ever-present Houston traffic at rush hour had me in a dismal mood by the time I found a parking space somewhere on Avondale Street...only to find a sign at the club door proclaiming, “DO NOT PARK ON AVONDALE!”
The first person I ran into in line was Houston’s favorite bartender and man on the scene, Punk Rock Jeff. I muttered something about the timing of the show, to which he pointed out it was Numbers Dance Night with a smile. “Look at this way,he said, "if you don’t get invited to the real afterparty, you can always stay at Numbers for the afterparty with all the freaks.”
Fair enough. I happen to like freaks and at least I’d be in bed at a decent hour or off to another party. And, you gotta love Numbers for being Numbers. No matter how many sterile, gentrified townhouses take over this god-forsaken town, you can step inside Numbers any day of the week and find the real hustle-town Houston on the smoking porch kicking back a cold Lone Star and talkin’ some serious mess. There’s no shortage of graffiti, grit and good times at a Numbers show.
The one and only King Buzzo, Lord of the Melvins
The scene inside was a familiar panorama. Houston’s rough-and-tumble fanbase of black-metal shirts, patched metal vests and flannel came out to support what at first glance looked like a rather odd ticket of the Melvins and Napalm Death. No matter; by the end of the show, it made perfect sense.
And that ticket did not disappoint. Japan's Melt-Banana’s singer and founder, Yakuso Onuki, came onstage to guitar noise and cellphone gaming sounds, followed by guitarist Ichirou Agata, all to an enthusiastic and nearly sold-out house.
Together the pair transfixed the members of the audience who were there for the headliners, and the fans who arrived to see them were clearly committed fanatics. After the show, I personally witnessed a woman proclaim her love to Onuki, who quickly thanked her before ducking backstage.
Amid screams and a mini circle-pit, Agata did beautiful things with his guitar that could only be called “experimental” (critically) and "genius" (appreciatively). Waving her remote-effect device (or was that a Simon Says game?) around and chirping into the mike, Onuki used her raps as rhythm and lyrics as they moved through the set.
I’ll admit I never am quite sure what the hell she’s saying and I only realize they’re playing a cover when they're already mid-song, but whatever it is, I like it a lot. Every time someone uses Billy Corgan's horrible quote from last year, “No one is really doing anything new with the guitar since Radiohead…,” I am tempted to throw Melt-Banana in that person's face.
When they cleared the stage, the energy and dynamic in the room changed. People headed for the bar, only to return to the front of the stage to claim space. I stood stage right near the back door, behind someone who shared my earlier sentiment, looked outside and loudly proclaimed, “It’s so weird that the sun is still out and we’re at a show, dude!"
It was perfectly clear most people in the room were there for the Melvins. Myself included, no offense to Napalm fans, but Melvins have always had a kind of indefinable heavy, lo-fi, angry sound that seemed to draw me in. We will chalk whatever that something is up to intense personal bias for their ties to Nirvana and helping to start grunge and neatly move on.
As they moved through the catalog with songs like “Eye Flys,” “Queen,” “Sesame Street Meat” and “Onions Make the Milk Taste Bad,” I realized why I loved this band so much. They are sexy. Hear me out; there’s something about the rhythm structure and driving bass lines of this band, set to King Buzzo’s singing, that is downright sexy.
And, yes, when Buzzo sings — as they all do — his voice is sex-fueled stuff. You can never blame them for hiding behind a sexy image; perhaps the Melvins are the antithesis of a sexy image, and that’s what makes them so good.
Although I had wished upon a star they’d play their cover of the Scientists' “Set It on Fire,” if only to hear some version of my name sung by Buzzo, it was not meant to be. The Melvins put on the best club performance I’ve seen this year and for that, I consider myself extremely lucky — star or not.
After the set, the crowd noticeably thinned and mainly death metal T-shirts remained. England’s Napalm Death hit the stage and ripped into their first song. The pit, which had been something of a good-natured tumble-bus crowd for the Melvins, warped into something demonic at the first few bars of crushing punk and metal. Shoes, cups, beer and humans came flying out of the circle pit, which at one point stretched the length of the stage.
Abandoning British sensibility for open discourse, lead singer Mark Greenway predictably got political between songs and took the chance to attack Donald Trump. “What a fucking oaf," he said to a respectable amount of applause. "I can’t even be offended by the man, he’s so ludicrous.” They covered Dead Kennedys' “Nazi Punks Fuck Off!” twice and played songs like “Smash a Single Digit” and “Retreat to Nowhere,” among others in the concisely packed set.
The show wrapped up by 11 p.m., which left hundreds of hardcore fans standing on the corner of Westheimer with a full night ahead of them. In case, you know, they wanted to catch an afterparty or more Lone Star on the back porch with a bunch of hustle-town freaks.