the last gang in town : mudhoney, 11-29-03
When everyone talks about the last “Seattle” band left, they’re usually talking about Pearl Jam. Somehow, everyone seems to forget that Mudhoney are still around and very much open for business.
I have to admit that I forget it myself, sometimes. And other times I think to myself that I cannot stomach yet one more show full of grunge wannabes, either tourists or newbies just off the Greyhound bus from the Midwest, fratboys, and aging hipsters. I whine that I would much rather see the Monkeywrench (aka the Mark And Steve Blues Explosion) than Mudhoney (and I have driven two hours north to Bellingham once for that pleasure). There’s some truth to all of that; sometimes there is too much of a good thing. Sometimes it is just another show, for both band and audience.
Then there are those nights where you drag yourself out and you are reminded vividly of why you’re glad to be alive.
Up at the Sunset Tavern on 11/29, a little band called “Beneath The Valley Of The Underdog” was advertised as playing. The first time I saw that band advertised was for a show at the late, lamented Moe’s back in 97. Helpfully, the ad was one of those “including members of…” listings (which in this case was practically a resume of Northwest rock and roll) and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out… and in case I was worried, I came running into the club that night and careened around a corner to run (literally) into the grunge brain trust, Mark and Steve, standing at the bar in identical blue jeans and Converse. After I extricated myself from that pileup, all I could think was: Ladies and gentlemen, those two men built a fucking empire of sound with ripped denim and Superfuzz Big Muff pedals.
The next time BTVOTU (hey, it was written that way on the band lineup tonight) played, they had a little band called Wellwater Conspiracy open for them, the very first time said band had ever played live, or even admitted to the fact that it was an actual band with actual members of Soundgarden in it. (Most people don’t even know that the whole shtick of WWC was that it was a “conspiracy,” with fake names and everything… okay I digress.) Bumbershoot weekend, 1997. It was kind of like – where the hell do I look first? Ack.
So then, this brings me to tonight. Have I seen better Mudhoney shows? Absolutely, and I have also seen some incredibly righteous ones that blew my mind. Has this band played better? Hell yeah. But tonight felt like your own private party, like these were your buddies up there on stage, and you’d come along to cheer them on in somebody’s basement or garage. As much as I am totally jaded about Seattle at this point (after almost 9 years, gulp), there was something amazing to me tonight about the fact that I could just drive up the road and see Mudhoney play in a tiny little dive of a bar in beautiful downtown Ballard.
The fact that they are still on that stage and still doing it, everyone looking older, sure, but still plenty of smiles, even if half of them were “oh, fuck.” kind of smiles. Even if Steve started to play “You Got It” instead of “Touch Me I’m Sick,” only to have Mark come over and point out the correct song on the setlist with great exaggerated care, and for Steve to eject, “Great, I already hate this song and now I have to play another song I hate,” (which was our cue to yell out, “Fine, play a fucking Joan Baez song then.” Steve is all about Joan Baez these days, which is a really long story that I don’t have time for, but you can go to roslyn recordings to find out more).
By the end of the show, the entire damn bar was one big mosh pit, complete with stage divers. Now, I fucking hate mosh pits and I gleefully move out of the way to let stagedivers hit the concrete. Tonight, however, was different. Tonight was not fucking amateur hour. Tonight wasn’t even about a bunch of 30 and 40 year olds reliving their youth. Tonight was just a bunch of people living their lives with the music that was part of them, as goddamn hippie as that may sound. It felt like a million other punk shows you’ve been to in someone’s garage or basement, there is no “us” and “them,” there is no rock star bullshit, there is no separation. It was totally fucking PUNK ROCK in the best possible 1980 kind of way, not the 2003 mall Hot Topic kind of way (despite the chick in front of us with the carefully red streaked hair and designer CBGB shirt).
You really haven’t lived until you’ve sung “Hate The Police” at the top of your lungs with 200 other people, or until you’ve jumped up and down while Mudhoney shreds through “Here Comes Sickness,” and even more importantly, until Matt fucking LUKIN comes onstage for the first time in longer than I care to remember… and then proceeds to remove his pants and stand there flossing his butt with a jacket someone threw onstage… and you are standing there, shoulder to shoulder with total strangers, and you are all getting misty eyed together at the reunion of Lukin and his former bandmates. *sniff*
It was real. It was bad and it was real and it was amazing and it was triumphant and it was astounding at moments. It wasn’t about MTV or Nissan commercials (although to be honest I would so not fucking begrudge this band that kind of chance for one goddamn second. “Come and get ’em” would be my attitude there, it would be about time they made some money). They have been doing this for what seems like forever, and the day that I can’t walk down the street or drive up the road and see Mudhoney on a stage somewhere will be a sign that something has gone very, very wrong in the world.
Just – goddamn. And thank you.
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