Most followers of the Eighties/Nineties American rock underground have heard of Mudhoney. The band became known back then for influencing other Seattle-area groups that later became huge — who can forget Kurt Cobain's array of Mudhoney T-shirts? The label Sub Pop recently reissued the 1988 debut EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff, in honor of both the band's and the label's 20th birthdays. What you get is, in essence, real punk rock — half-consciously sloppy, jacked-up, go-to-11 chunks of raw power.
And five minutes of listening to the Mudhoney show last Friday at Churchill's showed the band continues generating gonzo Stooges-style buzz. The setting was pretty much perfect for these anti-stars; the place's grimy concrete floors, pool-tables-as-merch-counters, low ceilings, and lack of a backstage seemed spot-on.
The crowd was small but almost intellectually slavish. Perhaps that's because of Mudhoney's lack of MTV-ready faces or radio-ready hooks — and its overload of fuzz fury and barely controlled spastic energy. There were plenty of the band's shirts in the audience — I would be stoked, too, if I had been following a group for 20 years and it was just now playing in my hometown.
Also, in keeping with the tradition of more obscure rock shows at Churchill's (and, uh, everywhere), the ratio of males to females remained lodged at about eight to one. And age-wise, well, it seemed like about half the audience had caught the band at its beginning, maybe a quarter picked up on it after reaching back from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and the rest were curious music geeks born closer to the mid-Eighties. Still, the viewers were generally all "adult," which made the later berserker slam-dancing even less expected and funnier.
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Local pop-punk group The Getback played an opening set (if you see them play, look really hard at the frontman, imagine him eating pastelitos in a different outfit, and see if you recognize him — that's all I'll say), as did the psych-y quintet Birds of Avalon, from Raleigh, North Carolina. This was over by around 11:30, and then, of course, there was a break of about an hour for ... whatever. (One door guy said they were delaying things in case anyone was rushing down from The Cure show at the BankAtlantic Center.)
Then came Mudhoney, and even the way the band took the stage was great and characteristic. They just kind of walked up from somewhere by the pool tables and quickly launched into "The Money Will Roll Right In." From the get-go, frontman Mark Arm was like a subtler Iggy Pop — clothed, but still fixing the crowd with that shamanic death stare he occasionally lets crack into a grin. In general, although the band members are in their mid-forties, they look (against all the laws of rock and roll lifestyles) about 10 years younger and still play like they're 20 years younger.
And as the group rip-rolled through the classics (and a tiny smattering of material from the latest album, The Lucky Ones), the fanboys in the crowd only got frothier. At one point, someone actually launched himself a couple of feet onto the stage and landed near bassist Guy Maddison, only to be forcefully rolled off by a guitar tech who looked like a librarian.
At this point, I began to regret thinking my perch at the main room bar was safe, because soon a multigenerational pit opened, ever-expanding as the band streamrolled through its litany of underground hits — "Execution Style," "Suck You Dry," "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More," "Touch Me I'm Sick," "Here Comes Sickness" — spurring balding, shorts-wearing, air-guitar-ing guys into pirouetting off windmills from twentysomething shirtless dudes. The rest of us just vibrated in awe, all the way through a sprawling set that ended with a four-song encore. The crowd would have had Mudhoney keep going. Few bands can claim that distinction, and few concertgoers can witness that spectacle in an intimate setting, so if you missed the show last Friday at Churchill's, well, to put it bluntly, you missed out.