Screaming Trees, Nirvana, Tad: Pine Street Theatre, Portland, OR

IT SEEMS incredible people still miss the point of Tad. Most (heavy) rock bands play for the sheer hell of it, and, sure Tad do that too, but the suffocating density of Tad’s sound emanates from the man himself, his anguish and his turmoil. And, because of it, Tad play the fiercest, most unsettling, one-dimensional trash you’re ever likely to encounter.

There’s something ennobling about the way Tad constantly throws himself against the limits of his psychotic sound; furiously, unrelentingly battering at his guitar. Occasionally, his songs can bludgeon you into thinking they’ve surpassed their structures – the mighty ‘Behometh’, where the very earth is wrenched asunder, or ‘Wood Goblins’, claustrophobic in its fluency – but it’s the very tangible presence of frustration, of being the eternal outsider, of never quite achieving, which gives his songs their worrisome edge.

People who consider Tad as some joke/freakshow should look deep inside themselves; he is the revenge of redneck Americana, howling its distaste at a straight-edged world.

Nirvana, also, are nowhere near as straightforward as their Sixties roots would allow – Motorhead gone pop, Led Zep turned punk, 30 years of US soil plundered by guitars, as plagiarised by this ungainly trio’s thunderous whisper. Their songs – particularly the stunningly harmonic ‘About A Girl’, and ‘Blew’, from their last single – have so much wrapped inside them to latch onto; angst, the idea of never belonging, small-town bigotry, frustrating at the mating game, isolation (both personal and geographical), hopes, envy, despair.

On the other hand, by covering The Vaselines’s apocryphal ‘Molly’s Lips’, Nirvana show an instinctive understanding on the joys of rock’n’roll normally taken to far greater, more horrendous extremes. Kurdt smashes his guitar by throwing it into the drumkit at the finale, six-footer Chris loops around on stage, blind fury on the bass. Nirvana, in their impotency and overwhelming hatred (which sometimes verges on misogyny), create a pop noise equalled only this side of Dinosaur Jr.

And so, after a brief non-musical interlude from The Legend! (who collected $1.71 from the stage after the show), including the forthcoming Sub Pop single, ‘Do Nuts’ (“Do nuts/Do nuts/Hey diddle diddle/I wonder if I can get some nice round donuts/The ones with the holes in the middle”), Screaming Trees disappoint, their shivering rushes of noise dragged down by structures which are too similar throughout. Mark Lanegan hugs the mike like a kid who never realised Jimmy Page was uncool, while the Conner brothers – more than a match for Tad when taken together – roll around the stage and jump like a herd of bison, with grisly abandon.

The new single, ‘Change Has Come’, bristles with psychotic relief, and some of ‘Buzz Factory’ connects with a venomous power startling to witness, but, taken as a whole, their abandoned metallic feral cry disappears into a howling morass of feedback, unwilling to drag itself any further.

Screaming Trees play like a band on the brink of self-destruction, but the fruits of destruction are bitter indeed.

© Everett TrueMelody Maker, 3 March 1990

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