The suitably vampiric surroundings of Camden’s KOKO provides the perfect ambience for a diabolical double header, with Jon Spencer and The Melvins ghosting in for Halloween.
Up first, despite being arguably the bigger name in the UK, Spencer is in explosive form.
After a brief false start, for which keyboardist Sam Coomes generously assumes responsibility, the band really hits their stride.
Powered by the ferocious drumming of M.SORD, Spencer’s set starts like an express train and if anything picks up speed as the night progresses.
Showcasing tracks from his debut solo album Spencer Sings The Hits, New York’s finest flies around the stage like a man possessed.
Even when he speaks, which is not often, it’s in short sharp bursts, like volleys of machine gun fire.
Tracks often run together often with no pause or let up in between, Spencer packing as much possible into the time available.
Quasi‘s Coomes, enthusiastically introduced by Spencer, even steps up to take lead vocals on one track
A major highlight sees the return of Pussy Galore percussionist Bob Bert.
Looking like a cross between Joey Ramone and an extra from a Rob Zombie movie, the former Sonic Youth drummer adds junkyard clatter to Spencer’s searing garage rock anthems.
Armed with a kit, which literally includes a trash can, Bert smashes away at slabs of iron and a metallic coil, a pair of steel hammers clenched in each black-gloved hand.
New tracks from the LP like Cape, Ghost and Fake more than hold their own against old favourites from Spencer’s repertoire, like the Blues Explosion‘s Dang and Loveless by Heavy Trash.
Appropriately Spencer’s set climaxes with a blistering cover of The Modern Lovers‘ new wave classic Roadrunner.
“We go faster miles an hour,” Spencer yawps – pretty much an apt summary of the entire performance.
If Spencer’s like a Hot Rod, headliners The Melvins are more like a juggernaut.
Featuring two bassists, including Jeff Pinkus of The Butthole Surfers fame, The Melvins music is portentous and monolithic.
Around for more than 30 years, their sludge-rock groove is a widely credited as the pre-cursor to grunge.
Prodigiously-talented sticksman Dale Crover, even briefly held the drum stool in Nirvana before Dave Grohl.
Pinkus dovetails neatly with long-serving co-bassist Steven McDonald and some of the playing, particularly from Crover and guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne, is incredible.
Known for their experimentalism, The Melvins have turned their hands to everything from speedcore and drone rock to electronica over the years.
But tonight there’s a uniform quality to the music, punishing and relentless.
The power is undeniable and there’s an instinctive synergy between all four musicians, but in truth things do start to drag a little halfway through.
This is music to be endured rather than enjoyed – a marathon to Jon Spencer’s sprint.
Stripped of Gibby Haynes’ vocal, their mangled take on the Butthole Surfers’ Moving to Florida, lacks the crazed surrealism and black humour that made Pinkus’ old band so compelling.
That said, Osborne – the group’s founder – remains a commanding presence, bestriding the stage ln a black smock, complete with all-seeing eye motif, like some kind of heavy rock druid.
Hardcore fans, and there are plenty of them, can’t get enough of it – some, showing scant regard for their ear drums, even have the temerity to scream for greater volume.
Drained, exhausted and battling with temporary deafness, we take our leave, stumbling out into the cold Camden night.
These guys definitely go to 11.
- Spencer Sings the Hits! is out now on In The Red Records and is available to order here. For more about Jon Spencer visit Shove Records on Facebook.
- The Melvins’ Pinkus Abortion Technician is out now through Ipecac Recordings. For more about the Melvins visit their website here.