For one night last week, the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre and the Great American Music Hall boasted complimentary offerings. While the former enticed customers with promises of gyrating bootie, the latter kept its statement truncated. Under top billings for the Melvins and Big Business, the Great American signage simply read “Porn .”
Of course, anyone familiar with Bay Area guitar aficionado/Melvins manager Tim Moss' disemboweling metal outfit knows there's nothing remotely T&A (even by Tenderloin standards) about his band. Alternately called Porn, Porn (The Men of), and The Men of Pornography, there is, however, plenty of coy teasing to be had before the group's money shots.
With his usual lanky metal-wizard visage covered in Santa Claus garb, from the stage Moss looked less Kris Kringle than a holiday burglar choking his hostage; he wrestled a guitar connected to a tangle of machinery designed to rough up the instrument's cries. Together with Melvin Dale Crover (or, I should say Elvis, as there were multiple wardrobe changes that evening) on drums, and a bassist I didn't recognize, Porn lumbered down a volumous path that knocked the tinnitus into our ear holes.
But Porn wouldn't give up the tsunami-riff momentum without some nasty flirtations first. The trio offered truncated chunks of Melvin-esque sludge; short tantrums that piqued the headbangers' interest and then fell away right when the crowd locked into the neck-loosening rhythm. It was a frustrating game — Moss tossing a meaty low-end morsel our way, his buddies building on it, and the song collapsing into silence before it could be fully savored. But slowly the tracks gained girth, rewarding our needy patience with black-hole grooves that took us to a climax of burly, bass-heavy rumblings eviscerating all communication save maybe sign language. It was vintage Porn, Moss-style — roiling feedback, dirty distortion, and obese beats like Motörhead loaded on Pink Floyd's Meddle.
The rest of the evening offered easy thrills in comparison. Big Business (whose powerhouse drummer Coady Willis played in three of the four bands that night) and the Melvins (whose Crover played with all four bands on the bill) performed like a bomb on continual detonation, the dirges getting louder and more momentous, the phlegmy cries growing more possessed, until you were released from standing in this cramped room of hoodied rockers and let your head twist in the ear-splitting murk. With the challenges of silence erased from the set, the Melvins' finale gave the room communion, groves of worshippers inciting whirling dervishes or simply thrusting their noggins toward the floorboards in time. It was a different grind than what I assume the dudes next door were getting from the Mitchell Brothers ladies, but escapism is escapism and there's something about that gutter-hued, mud-packed metal that offers a satisfactory release from time, normality, and maybe even the annoyance of an excitable fan flapping his elbows a little too close to your chest. Add to that the possibility that this music — from Porn through the headliners — offered something of an aphrodisiac to boot. While I can hardly say the bottom-heavy boom enters the bloodstream quicker than Spanish Fly, there was some kind of musty magic in the air that evening. After a pill-poppers' rendition of “Goodnight Sweetheart” (complete with backup singers dressed as monkeys) brought the cabaret to a close, I walked by not one but two horny metal couples mashing face outside the Great American. Ironically, the more overt offerings of the O'Farrell Theatre didn't bring on the same sidewalk display of affection outside its doors.