[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7511NXJNV8o] “I Like It Small” by Mudhoney
“What have I done?”, the plaintive call from Mark Arm in “Blinding Sun”, was exactly how I felt after getting blasted by Mudhoney at the Black Cat on July 7, 2015.
The problem, to be precise, involved standing too close to the speakers for an inappropriate amount of time without ear plugs. My ears are still ringing.
Mudhoney gave the expectant crowd (just over half filled) wave after wave of fuzzy and distorted salvos of music, punctuated by lead singer Mark Arm’s howling and often manic vocals. Few heads failed to nod along with the beat.
There is something to be said about heavy music permeating your face and your bones at a live show. This cannot be captured in a recording and it is why grunge is an experience to be had, not merely listened to.
Mudhoney, among the pioneers of the grunge music scene that roared out of Seattle in the early 1990’s, sing angry lyrics. Yet with a wink, like they’re in on the joke. Not really angry, just looking to entertain.
In “1995” they want to know “What are you looking at?”, as if they’re the cool kids and you’re the nerd that accidentally stared a second too long.
In “Touch Me I’m Sick”, their first single in 1988, they embrace the paranoia around living with disease, and dare the woman to go for it anyway. “I Like It Small”, from their latest album Vanishing Point, is an ode to the mantra that bigger isn’t always better in life (and other things).
They introduced the cover of the Angry Samoans’ almost perky break-up song “You Stupid Asshole”, as a “rock ballad for everyone”, but the song still finds a way to acknowledge that they are assholes too.
Steve Turner’s full throttle crushing guitar riffs and Guy Maddison’s destructive bass propped up every song, especially the aforementioned “1995” and “The Final Course”. Dan Peters, on drums, got a moment in the spotlight as well in a blazing drum solo in the final song, “In ‘N’ Out of Grace’.
Mark Arm, often credited with using the term “grunge” to describe his first band where later it was co-opted as the moniker for the whole subgenre of alternative music, was in fine form. And I suspect in a drunk form as well. Between doling out fits of lyrics, it was impressive to see him with a full bottle of white wine at the back of the stage, which he partook in frequently. During one lengthy guitar riff in “The Final Course”, he even had time to read the label, as if that would have helped him decide whether or not to continue drinking it.
Mudhoney’s career has spanned almost 30 years. They’ve honed down their sound to what they excel at. They are currently on the Sub Pop label, and have released four albums with them since 2000. The most recent, The Vanishing Point, was released in 2013. Each successive album doesn’t stray too far from that formula, and it’s hard to see why they would try.
As a huge fan of grunge music in particular, I enjoyed the energy Mudhoney brought to the Black Cat. They are not my favorite grunge band, but their performance gave old and new fans alike, something to write home about.
During the encore, playing “Into the Drink”, they declared “I don’t got what you want, and I don’t care what you think”, but I suspect neither is true.