Mudhoney Fitzgerald's Monday, September 30, 2013
The summer of 2013 has seen a good number of '90s stalwarts reunite in the name of cash and creativity. The Replacements, Pixies and Sebadoh have all regrouped in recent months, or announced their intention to do so. But don't lump Seattle grunge pioneers Mudhoney in with those nostalgia acts.
Twenty-five years on, Mark Arm and co. just released the smashing new album Vanishing Point this past March on their old Emerald City label Sub Pop. The new songs stack up surprisingly well against the band's back catalogue, an indication that their superfuzzy brand of punk -- indebted to Iggy, Jimi and Neil Young -- remains relevant and inspired. A pretty packed (for a Monday), hard-rocking show upstairs at Fitzgerald's showed this was no fluke.
It took precisely two songs for the mosh pit to get warmed up, and as Mudhoney launched into the excellent, acerbic new track "I Like it Small" not a few fans started pinballing across the dancefloor. The tune, which includes the lyric "I've got big enough balls to admit I like it small," could almost be taken as something of a manifesto for Arm, whose dalliance with fame never reached the tragic point of stablemates Nirvana (RIP Kurt) or the radio ubiquity of Soundgarden. Stage banter stayed at a minimum, but between Arm's still supple vocals, Steve Turner's peeling lead guitar, and drummer Dan Peters' throttling beats, there was not a lot left to say.
Arm kept his guitar strapped on for the first half of the show, and his antic howls made it hard to believe that the singer-songwriter turned 52 this year. Renditions of "You Got It" off Mudhoney's full-length, self-titled 1989 debut, and their mid-level 1992 hit "Suck You Dry" were delivered with such fierce authenticity it seemed potentially possible that the band might have been transported to the 21st century in a time machine.
Meanwhile, the grey-flecked crowd gave as good as it got, generally keeping their smartphones tucked away, sweaty bodies cartwheeling through the air. And so it went as Mudhoney mixed the old tracks with the new, echoing at times the Stooges, Bad Religion and even Uncle Neil's classic Tonight's the Night. At some point, Arm collapsed howling onstage, and lucky audience members reached out to pat and caress their fallen hero. The audience was part of the performance now.
By the time Mudhoney rolled up on smoking versions of "Sweet Thing Ain't Sweet No More" and "When Tomorrow Hits" these became make-do anthems for a sweaty, rag-tag crew of warriors determined to shrug off the wages of time while acknowledging that none of us are immune to the ticking of the clock. Even, so through the years, Mudhoney has offered a clear third path between burning out and fading away. Late into the set, Arm laid aside his guitar and continued his cathartic assault on the assembly. Twenty songs in, and they finally took a break.
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The crowd worked hard for its encore, another six songs or so as Monday night blended into Tuesday morning. But for many, the high point came earlier with the band's monstrous performance of their best-known track "Touch Me I'm Sick." First recorded in 1988, the twisted track was an anti-pickup line from the get, birthing a thousand wrong romances. Today, it's unclear how many fresh-faced fans get the cosmic in-joke that made Arm an oracle for Generation X marking an era when heroin turned life into a living hell for many of his contemporaries. It's still a beast.
As has been observed about the '60s, if you remember them, you were not there -- with the 1990s, it's another story altogether. Judging from this concert, Mudhoney is not content to merely bathe in the light of its reflected glory -- and I for one hope that Vanishing Point is merely a nifty album title and not a sneaky way to say goodbye. The new track "What to Do with the Neutral," performed as a counterpoint to "Touch Me," showed that grunge's elder statesmen are still pondering what it all means. "Embrace the positive, reject the negative, what about the neutral which is neither here nor there?" he sang -- a survivor's koan, one well worth considering.
Personal Bias: Over 25 years ago, heeding the clarion call of the West Coast, I loaded up my hatchback and moved to Seattle, arriving in time to surf the grunge wave. I wore my custom Sub Pop/Nike 20th-anniversary high-tops to the show Monday.
The Crowd: A mostly white, Gen-X dudescape with plenty of ink and the occasional knit cap and flannel despite the humidity; a few sexy ladies who knew what they were in for; and a few who couldn't wait to get back outside and escape the noise.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Do you think [the band] can still hear after all these years?"
Random Notebook Dump: Back in the day, Mudhoney recorded an EP with Texas troubadour Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and had a minor hit with "Tonight I Think I'm Going to Go Downtown." I kind of wish that they had played that song. I don't think they did.
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