The year of great new albums continues, this time with Seattle’s godfathers of grunge, Mudhoney. April 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of Mudhoney’s founding from the ashes of the great Green River, a band that for my money can make a very strong claim as the ground zero of grunge. Consider. Following Green River’s demise, Mark Arm and Steve Turner went on to form Mudhoney, a band that is still around today and releasing cool albums. Meanwhile Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, and Bruce Fairweather formed the nucleus of Mother Love Bone, which seemed destined for chart success before the untimely death of frontman Andy Wood at age 24. Fairweather went on to local Seattle favorite Love Battery, while Gossard and Ament participated in the one-off all-star supergroup Temple of the Dog before helping form a pretty famous band called Pearl Jam. That’s an amazing amount of success to come out of Green River.
I remember buying the “Touch Me I’m Sick” single and playing the hell out of it, along with the “You Got It (Keep It Outta My Face)” and “This Gift” singles and the band’s self-titled debut LP. I would never claim that I was the biggest Mudhoney fan out there by any means, but most of us, at least in my circle of friends, were convinced they were going to be the band that broke the Seattle scene. Turned out we were wrong. But Mudhoney still kicked ass, and “Touch Me I’m Sick” became “Touch Me I’m Dick” in the movie Singles, the anthem of Matt Dillon’s fictitious band Citizen Dick. The band contributed a song to the soundtrack, “Overblown,” for which they were paid a considerable sum of money but later admitted that they spent less than $200 recording.
Last night was the Seattle record release party at Neumos for Mudhoney’s new LP, Vanishing Point. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen them live, but actually the third. In fact both prior shows were also at Neumos, so we knew what to expect – a somewhat older crowd (remember, the peak of Mudhoney’s popularity was in the late 1980s/early 1990s), but one that wasn’t afraid to get after it. Big time.
Opening act Universe People kind of left me flat, with not much really happening on stage and songs that all seemed to have the same cadence, making me almost wonder if they weren’t playing the same song over and over again. Punks Unnatural Helpers were up next and they tore it up in a blistering 30 minute set that must have included at least 20 songs. They were fast, energetic, and obviously having a great time, and I think I’m going to need to pick up their newest album Land Grab and check them out.
And then came Mudhoney. They opened their set by playing straight through the 10 tracks that make up Vanishing Point, and the music was an impressive mix of faster and slower songs, all of them heavy (more on the album later). The crowd was definitely into it, but you could tell there was a little tension building as the energy level increased and the anticipation grew for some of the old classics. When Arm announced they were about to play the last song from the new album, someone in the crowd shouted, “Touch me I’m sick,” to which Arm good-naturedly replied, “That is not the last song on the new album!” But that fan and the rest of the audience wouldn’t have to wait much longer.
Following a brief break the band came out for their second set, and jumped right into the opening chords of their most popular song, “Touch Me I’m Sick.” Within maybe three seconds the first fan ran onto the stage and flew headfirst into the crowd, followed fairly quickly by two more stage divers while Mark Arm played on with an amused grin on his face. The mosh pit, which up to that point had been active but not over the top, flat out exploded in to a sea of swarming, sweating bodies. A few fans were lifted up out of the crowd and surfed the pit, some coming back down on their feet, others on their heads, though the moshers were quick to help anyone who hit the ground, much to their credit. There wasn’t any fighting, or any idiots throwing sucker punches, just a bunch of people losing their minds together. Other classics followed, and both the band and crowd played off each other for the rest of the night.
Unfortunately I never got my hands on a copy of the new album – amazingly it hadn’t arrived at the merch table prior to the doors opening, and when I tried to head back over there towards the end of the show there was a huge crowd packed in the lobby area waiting to get into a DJ set going on at the other club in the basement, and frankly it didn’t look like the kind of crowd I wanted to wade through. I guess I’ll have to wait for Vanishing Point to officially drop on Tuesday.
That, however, won’t keep me from giving you a quasi-review, since I heard the whole thing played live and iTunes already has some long cuts posted from each of Vanishing Point‘s 10 songs.
The album is unmistakably Mudhoney, something almost guaranteed due to Arm’s unique voice and style. Musically this is a band that shows it’s 25 years of experience – Mudhoney’s sound gets cleaner and their talent comes through more and more with each new album. Let’s be real, they’ll probably never recapture the raw energy of their sound of the late 1980s, which was a combination of them being the right bunch of guys, at the right age, in the right place, at the right time. They’ve matured as musicians and it shows, and they still have their place in the music scene, especially in Seattle.
But while Vanishing Point is a musically mature album, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have an edge and that the guys don’t still have a sense of humor. “I Like it Small” isn’t a double-entendre, it’s about what it implies – small manhood.
I don’t need no Magnum,
A snub nose will do just fine.
And I’ll take G.G. Allin,
Over Long Dong Silver any time.
— “I Like it Small”
If you’ve ever seen footage of GG Allin live, particularly those shows where he ended up singing naked (which, as near as I can tell, was unfortunately most of them), you’ll get the reference.
The wittiest song is “The Only Son of the Widow from Nain.” Not a lot of bands other than those on the Christian music circuit go to the New Testament for inspiration, and if they do they generally don’t look to the less well-known stories like this one, the first example of Jesus raising someone from the dead. In this case the formerly deceased seems pretty stoked about getting a second chance.
They say you can’t keep a good man down,
I feel good and I’m up for another round.
I’m comin’ back,
I’m comin’ back,
I’m comin’ back,
That being said, the widow’s son still has a bone to pick with his place in history.
They call me the only son of the widow from Nain.
Nobody remembers my name.
Fucking Lazarus got all the fame,
I’m the only son,
I’m the only son,
I’m the only son,
Of the widow from Nain!
There are some other fun tracks here too, like the ode to hookups that you can’t remember called, aptly, “I Don’t Remember You,” and the intriguingly titled “Douchebags on Parade.” Even when the lyrics are funny they carry a biting edge – this isn’t comedy, it’s satire, it’s social critique. There’s a depth there if you’re willing to just take a second to think about it, and I’ve always liked that about Mudhoney’s lyrics.
If you ever get a chance to see Mudhoney, do yourself a favor and get a ticket. I can’t vouch for how their shows are outside of Seattle, but from reviews and stories I’ve read I suspect you’ll get an experience similar to what we’ve had each of the three times we’ve seen them in their hometown over the years. Definitely pick up a copy of Vanishing Point, and if you order it from Sub Pop, there’s actually a good chance that Mark Arm himself will package it and get it shipped out to you – since he’s the warehouse manager for the label when he’s not busy being a rock star. If that’s not down to earth, I don’t know what is.
All photos with the exception of the album cover, Copyright Jeff @ Life in the Vinyl Lane, 2013.