Mudhoney at Fitzgerald's, 9/30/2013
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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