Brighton Concorde, 8/9/10
“Another one like that one!”
Sometimes a heckler sums up a night. It was like this Vancouver-based five-piece had planned to serve up retro country rock, till you thought that was the only dish on the menu, then every so often throw in something different. (Such as a morse code guitar line like something from the Ex.)
...but alas the somethings different never really gelled into a permanent presence. The dominant sound was somewhere between the Band and a more countrified Deep Purple, with swirling organs and (at times) the howling vocals. You could say they were never doing it less than well. But this particular ‘it’ is something we’ve heard an awful lot of, by this point in history. Despite the high points, as the set ended in... yes, really... a long-winded rock-out, I was ready for the exit before the end.
The staging perhaps didn’t help, with the backlit band appearing almost as silhouettes. I once saw Tricky backlit only in red, an unnerving device which fitted the edginess of the music. Here it just created a distancing effect, surely the very thing great rock music cuts against. (Nor would this seem to have been an accidental effect, as reviews of other nights have reported similarly.)
This shouldn’t be taken as an anti-rock statement, for I’ve been through all that post-punk anti-rockism. (Which was, after all, a historical movement not some kind of universalist statement. It was designed to jettison baggage so should never become baggage in its own right.) Since then, if anything, I’ve become quite attracted to rock music all over again, with its promise of unhinged abandon at such a remove from the dominant mores of post-modernist ‘irony’. Going back to rock music is cool. But you’ve surely got to reinvent it for your own era, not just reproduce it, not just try to recreate the Seventies note for note.
Then, a little less than a month later, in the same venue we had...
Brighton Concorde, 5/10/10
Ask most people about grunge, and the default name will be Nirvana. Yet ask any grunge fan and they’ll tell you it was Mudhoney who set the scene. Nirvana merely slipped out of grunge, just as things were getting underway, to eclipse their shadow. They bore the same relationship to Nirvana as Burning Spear did to Bob Marley, one bringing it to the masses but in a poppified form, the other sticking firmly to the roots.
And grunge had a peculiar relationship to rock music which made those roots matter. Coming after post-punk and hardcore, its raison d’etre was virtually to reintergrate rock music into punk. After years of pretence, suddenly it was okay again to admit you liked the Stones or Led Zeppelin.
But it did this in a particular way. Grunge saw rock music as something that had become adulterated. So it acted like a sluice gate, separating the clean, pure water from that nasty, smelly, black viscous stuff. Then, with impeccable logic, it kept the black stuff and slung the water out. Grunge took rock back to its gutter-level roots. It wasn’t music you could play to your music tutor and claim it could improve or elevate you. It gloried in sounding skuzzy, nasty and fucked up. Not for no reason was Mudhoney’s first single called ‘Touch Me I’m Sick,’ a chorus-line delivered like a rallying call.
But of course what you really want to know is it worth seeing four middle-aged white guys now, more than a decade after their formation and well past grunge’s heyday? Isn’t that dragging out your old flannel shirt, just like the gonzo punks do with their studded jackets?
In fact, by some transformative magic, everything that should work against the band ends up going for them. At the point where most bands have tired of their hits, and serve up desultory versions so they can get to new stuff no-one actually wants to hear, Mudhoney remain a live act of incessant force. The time they’ve been together is just time they’ve had to get good at this, putting more killer tracks at their disposal. The set has an incessant force, pausing only for the briefest of mumbles to the audience before leaping into the next number.
Alongside all the rock stuff, Mudhoney’s main punk influence must be the Stooges. Their success is their ability to convey that angsty, fucked-up feeling most of us know so well. (With just enough black humour and self-parody to carry it, the honey lacing the mud.) It’s a feeling that seems to lend itself most to musical expression, to distorted guitars, furious drums and slurred, bellowed vocals. I’ve no idea whether that’s a universal rule or just a generational thing. Perhaps kids these days get it all out through those computer games, and their grime nights are just places to hang out. But Mudhoney still do it for me...
Coming Soon! Further gig-going adventures...