Grunge Legends in the Basement of Lit? Must Be a ‘Post Moral Neanderthal Retardist’ Art Show

Photos: Daniel Maurer

The Melvins are widely considered the godfathers of grunge: Kurt Cobain, who drove them to shows in their Mel-van, was so heavily influenced by their brand of “sludge metal” that he once worried Nirvana would be considered a “Melvins rip-off.” So why did their latest show draw just under 150 people?

Rest assured, the band’s fan base isn’t dwindling as it enters its third decade. The half-filled basement of Lit was part of (what else?) a “Post Moral Neanderthal Retardist Pornography” art show.

Tom Hazelmyer, who produced the show (his Amphetamine Reptile record company put out a couple of the band’s 18 studio albums) said tickets sold out in about 20 minutes. The $50 cost of entry got attendees one of 300 handmade records as well as a wristband. Those who couldn’t get into Lit’s cave-like basement were able to watch a simulcast of the show next-door at TT Underground underneath Toy Tokyo, where Melvins-related artwork by Mr. Hazelmyer (a.k.a. HAZE XXL) and others graced the walls.

The West Coast leg of the show occurred last month at Shepard Fairey’s Los Angeles gallery, Subliminal Projects. The New York installment came about after Lorne Colon, an assistant manager at Toy Tokyo and director of TT Underground, attended a Melvins concert and invited them to see the gallery.

“When we walked down into the room we were like, ‘Wow, this room is awesome,’” said Mr. Hazelmyer, who was already familiar with Toy Tokyo because, he said, he and Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne are both “rabid, empty-our-wallets” toy collectors. He also owned the toy-centric Ox-Op gallery in Minneapolis.

After TT Underground materialized as a venue for the art show, having the concert next-door at Lit seemed like a no-brainer. And Erik Foss, co-owner of Lit, was more than happy to host it. He saw the Melvins for the first time while attending high school in Arizona and has been to many shows since. “I’ve seen the Melvins every time they have played live in every town I’ve lived in since the first time I saw them in the late 80s,” he said. “They’re one of the most important rock bands of our time.”

Saturday, he asked Mr. Osborne to sign his copy of “Gluey Porch Treatments,” the record he bought at that first show.

Another reason the event seemed like kismet: Chris Mars, one of the artists who designed the limited edition records, had his first show at Fuse Gallery behind Lit, said Mr. Foss.

And Mr. Hazelmyer happily got some shopping done while he was at Toy Tokyo, picking up a figure by Ashley Wood, among others. Mr. Hazelmyer recently started collecting Kaiju toys after years of resistance. “It’s just like heroin,” he said. “Buy the first one and then $1,000 later you have three toys.”

After the opening, the Melvins played a short set of songs from their latest album, “Freak Puke.” Trevor Dunn played upright bass (the album was released under the name Melvins Lite) and Mr. Osborne did his usual thing, with his gray-streaked Sideshow Bob-esque hair practically touching the low ceiling of Lit’s basement. Spotted in the crowd (more of a cluster than a crowd, actually): Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The sight of the stoner rock legends playing a space more often associated with Bushwick upstarts was a bit disconcerting, but some things never change. It’s safe to say King Buzzo was the only man wearing something that resembled a turtlenecked Satanic priest’s outfit on that hot summer day.

“Post Moral Neanderthal Retardist Pornography” through July 8 at TT Underground, 91 Second Avenue, Tue-Sun; 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.; (212) 673-5424