I arrived at the Forum to see Mudhoney gig tonight quite late; twenty years late, to be precise.
I have the perfect age to have lived and loved Seattle scene at his peak. But I didn’t. My fault (or my choice), music taste is sometime linked more with our inner beat than with drummers’ rhythms.
Fact is that twenty years ago I was an Italian guy well aware of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney , Screaming Trees but my listening of this music was mainly relegated to radio-rock airings while preparing university exams.
I missed 3 Nirvana gigs, I saw Pearl Jam just because they were supporting U2 in their legendary ZOO TV tour (and I enjoyed U2 more), I skipped Soundgarden because I could never stand Chris Cornell and I was never too much into the rest of the bunch to invest my few money in one of these concerts, including Mudhoney.
I was annoyed on the use of grunge as a music genre, and I was probably right. I have always seen it as a marketing phenomenon trying to catalyze youth anger and frustration using the music of American bands who were screaming out their problems.
The music press obsession to classify rock called grunge any band from Seattle. Apart from Nirvana, Pearl Jam and probably Soundgarden I always found difficult to associate the rest under the same roof.
Any group of friends playing guitars in Seattle’s garages around that time were brought into some SubPop offices to sign a record deal and many become “grunge stars”. Whatever music they played, a good producer and a better manager would have filled the box with dirty distorsion, hard drumming, anger, frustration and a flannel shirt.
Universal themes, they had reflected adolescence in any music era from the past and will always in the future. However, time was appropriate to transform grunge into a golden mine hence, stop talking start screaming!
Someone cashed millions with Nirvana’s laments without realizing Cobain was seriously self-destructing; Pearl Jam after a brilliant couple of album moved to safer territories capitalizing on Crazy Horse heritage (and giving Neil Young the chance to resurrect from his 80s limbo) and, among the many others, Mudhoney probably recorded the best and the most seminal of all SubPop late 80s record.
Despite my unsympathetic feeling for the genre, Superfuzz Bigmuff has been part of my tape collection since. I love it so much that recently I bought the beautiful packaged special edition to replace that missing tape. Beyond Touch me, I’m Sick, who identifies Mudhoney and is a hymn for the whole Seattle scene, there are superb songs as In’n'Out of Grace which contains one of the most indicative drum sections in rock since Keith Moon death. The beautiful If I Think wins over the other bands in my personal best of list of ballads of that period.
Born from half of the seminal Seattle band, Green River (the other half established Mother Love Bone), Mark Arm and Steve Turner formed Mudhoney in 1988 recruiting Melvins’ bassist Matt Lukin and one of the most impressive drummers of the entire American scene: Dan Peters.
Peters around that time was involved with Nirvana, he even recorded the early single Sliver before Dave Grohl arrival kicked him out of a multimillionaire future. I always fancied to know what Nirvana would have become if Peters didn’t leave.
Certainly Foo Fighters wouldn’t exist and I am not sure if in the end it is a bad thing.
Mudhoney primordial instinct is garage-rock with a particular fondness for the “Fun house” era Stooges, their clearest influence isn’t Seattle but Detroit.
If in their beginning this blended with feedback’n’distortion played on relentless drumming, it is because in facts you couldn’t be anything else at that time. The Iggy and friends influence became more and more clear since the grunge hype declined and set them free.
The post SubPop Mudhoney second age is on Reprise. They expand their musical horizons stressing garage up to a havier bluesy-rock vein. It made them boundless and happy but it also let a fanbase perplexed, lost without well known musical references.
I wonder what those millions of Seattle fans ended up listening to after Cobain death and other bands either vanishing or stepping away.
Did you stop listening to music? Did you move to the Californian desert with the stoners? Or you just got married, had babies and sip tea enjoying Norah Jones? Just a curiosity…If you read, please let me know.
As history teaches, when a band splits (or eclipses for a while) then come back the need of déjà vu fuels rockers excitement.
SubPop smelled that it was time to bring the boys back home.
Signed on 2002, Mudhoney third era starts with Guy Maddison replacing the original bassist Matt Lukin. Musically a more mainstream release: Since We’ve Become Translucent, with such a revealing, self-pitying title the hints at a plan to comeback are evident.
As already happened to fellows Dinosaur Jr. the occasion for the return came in 2006 when Mudhoney accepted to curate and headline the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival.
A very well received concert and the guys were back in the business. Two further albums including, earlier this year the critically acclaimed The Lucky Ones. Once again a revealing title, this time with a happier and sarcastic insinuation.
This one-off London gig at the Forum ended my twenty years wait to see Mudhoney on stage.
As soon as I arrive I am happily surprised to count more Stooges T-shirts than Nirvana‘s.
9.30pm, Mark Arm enters and starts screaming some kind of hardcore stuff at ear-bleeding volume. I will discover later to be an infamous cover of The Money Will Roll Right In originally by the Fang present on their rarities CD. I have never been into hardcore enough to recognise bands covering it.
His theatrical presence, curve on himself, bent towards the audience, stretched to the back is in its entirety borrowed by Iggy Pop manual of rock performance, including those lunatic blue eyes staring at the first rows under a quite similar blonde haircut. Iggy would be proud of such a firstborn.
He didn’t show off his naked torso, appropriately, because his Black Flag T-shirt was pure glamour.
With the ever more impressive beat of Dan Peters thrashing his toms at the speed of light – a locomotive hidden in the body of a drummer – the crowd goes crazy from the start and won’t breathe until the last chord, which will be another of their rarities, an homage to the T-shirt and to the legendary hardcore pioneers: Black Flag’s Fix Me.
In the middle of the 80 minutes, the set crosses their career with a particular attention to the heaviest beats. Their Superfuzz Bigmuff songs are surprisingly received among the many youngsters. The first riff of Touch me, I’m Sick is so effective to let me predict a riot. I bring myself and the cameras in the safer (and emptier) balcony.
A good move, up there the distorted feedback is much better balanced. I can distinguish the guitars and the value of the riffs of Steve Turner over the unstoppable progression of drums, indisputably the framework of Mudhoney sound tonight.
When Suck You Dry ends it didn’t manage to dry out any of the tons of sweat dripping from the wild stalls and the wonderful Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More is dedicated to the ones that still doubt hard(core) rock doesn’t have superb melodies.
I would have enjoyed a break to listen to If I Think but tonight there were no concessions to ballads. Pure sheer energy from the start to the end.
Grunge won’t be back, Mudhoney definitely are.
As a sort of parasite artists (this is a bit strong actually), concert photographers must rely on the musicians they are photographing.
If finding a way to freeze (or not) the motion, to deal (or not) with bad lighting, to struggle (or not) among the crowd for the best spot is something that is up to us, stage presence is up to the artist and has a key role on our final result.
Theoretically you can get good photographs of any artist, whatever happening on stage.
In practice, with few hundreds negatives in my archives, I can tell with reasonable confidence that the best sets come out of the bands who are aware of photographers and our needs. With very few exceptions.
When Mark Arm enters a neat stage, ignoring the guitar for the first three songs, moving the microphone pole from the front to the backstage and starts performing followed by a white spotlight, we know he is doing us a favour but he also knows we are going to pay him back.
So this tip instead of being for photographers is for bands and their crew.
I don’t pretend to change the performance of anyone, art is free and artists can do whatever they want, I am just suggesting paying attention at some little details.
Monitors position, microphone poles, cables, bottles of water and any intrusive object will result in a distraction on any final image.
Instructing your light technician to switch on a couple of added spotlights for the first 3 songs won’t change your show a lot, unless you are Pink Floyd, but it’ll be much easier for us and, guaranteed, you’ll be happier with the results.
It is not compulsory, though. We are creative enough to find a way around any setting you’ll decide to use with just one exception: total darkness.