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Only the Strong Survive

Mike Patton's noise bands and Neil Hamburger's "post-comedy" bring riffs and yuks together.

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History and logic dictate that the phrase "a night of comedy and music" cause trepidation. Images of Dread Zeppelin, Weird Al Yankovic, Adam Sandler, and Tenacious D can raise hairs, not to mention red flags. But perhaps the two connected, separate-but-equal events arriving in Memphis Friday, May 30th, can do a better job of uniting those often incompatible forms. Hopefully, a transition from the futuristic good-time boogie of the Melvins to the "post-comedy" of an after-party with stand-up enigma Neil Hamburger will be a welcome influx of pure entertainment. Or maybe it will be the scariest evening Memphis has experienced in ages.

Though partially responsible for rap-metal, Mike Patton has nevertheless evolved into a fringe-music chameleon far removed from his earlier days fronting Faith No More and Mr. Bungle (the latter of which he still fronts). Co-founding Ipecac Records in 1999, he swiftly assembled a roster of new and established noiseniks in need of a like-minded home. Three of these artists -- Dalek, Tomahawk, and the Melvins -- will make up the version of Geek Fest 2003 (yep, that's the real name) making it to the New Daisy Theater Friday, May 30th.

Dalek will open the show with a sucker punch of hip-hop truly deserving of the adjective "underground." With sheets of musique-concräte noise, verbal hostility, and metropolitan psychedelia, Dalek unite such influences as New Kingdom's over-the-top abrasiveness, Public Enemy's Bomb Squad, Can, and the sonic beatdown of early Swans and EinstÅrzende Neubauten. Properly puzzling, the combo has opened for everyone from De La Soul to the Dillinger Escape Plan.

I'll confess that I haven't exactly been plagued by the question "What would a noise-rock dream team of 1993 sound like today?" But in case I'm flying solo, the majority will find their gratification in Tomahawk. Kevin Rutmanis (the Cows, Melvins) on bass, Duane Denison (Jesus Lizard, Scratch Acid) on guitar, and John Stanier (Helmet) on drums all try to make sonic sense of Patton's polyoctave throat acrobatics. It sounds exactly like the sum of its parts: Jesus Lizard aggro-surf guitar, asphyxiating drum and bass typical of its bygone era, and Patton gluing it together with a Mr. Bungle-esque vocal agenda with the edges softened and elongated, resulting in music that manages to sound of a piece without losing its goofy irreverence.

As for Tomahawk's co-headliners, I've seen a nice cross-section of Melvins' shows over the past decade and not once have they disappointed. Like Fugazi and, to a lesser extent, Sonic Youth, the Melvins have spent the past 18 years calling their own shots while also managing to achieve a respectable level of popularity in the process. Their humble beginnings were uneventful: great band, relative obscurity, old story. Following the example of expiration-date-era Black Flag, the Melvins gained an early notoriety for slowing down and stretching the Black Sabbath sound to such extreme lengths that they could fit an entire musical idea in between each riff. Repetition is the secret of the sound, whether creeping along or adopting the pace of Slayer. (The common, unresearched myth has it that the Melvins are always slow.) The trio also pioneered the act of packaging obscenely heavy music in sleeves adorned with flowers, bunnies, and icons of positive pastel thought.

Along with the Wipers, the Melvins were an antecedent that Kurt Cobain openly worshipped, and his name-dropping helped the band land an early-'90s major-label deal. After a dismissal three albums in, the Melvins landed back in indie-land feet first with dignity and sound intact. A little label-hopping ensued before the band emerged on Ipecac with a three-album wake-up call in 1999 (The Bootlicker, The Maggot, and The Crybaby). Several live records popped up before 2002's Hostile Ambient Takeover and a collector-taunting shower of limited-edition-series singles earlier this year. Knowing what to expect from the Melvins is not part of the plan (this is a band prone to piggyback "traditional" albums with full releases of harsh white noise or playful covers), but the band's erratic nature never precludes a great live show.

For showgoers looking to extend the festivities, the Hi-Tone CafÇ is throwing an after-show party that offers a Geek Fest-related comedy nightcap in the form of quasi-/semi-/okay-maybe-not-so-legendary stand-up comic Neil Hamburger, who will take the stage shortly after the New Daisy show concludes.

Hamburger is a loose affiliate of Ipecac Records and Mike Patton -- the label reissued Hamburger's 1993 debut Great Phone Calls -- and Hamburger's impressive discography of proper stand-up comedy releases includes such unforgettable party classics as Bartender, the Laugh's on Me, Left for Dead in Malaysia, Raw Hamburger, and last fall's Laugh Out Lord. Hamburger's act takes the past 50 years of nightclub laughs, puts its ass in lights, and pelts you with every ugly detail. It's a send-up, a tribute, and an honest attempt all rolled into one. Currently living in Australia, Hamburger is in the States for a monthlong residency at the Knitting Factory L.A. after the much-ballyhooed May 12th appearance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show, which had Howard Stern -- though not a barometer of good taste -- playing the audio on his radio show and name-checking the heady days of Andy Kaufman. In other words: Get ready to put that funny bone in a sling -- you'll have a giggle fever of 105 and issues that require tissues!

Geek Fest 2003

with The Melvins, Tomahawk, and Dalek

The New Daisy Theatre

Post-Geek Fest After-Party

with Neil Hamburger and Automusik

The Hi-Tone CafÇ

Friday, May 30th

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