Last Night: Mudhoney at Churchill's


With Birds of Avalon and the Getback

Friday, June 13, 2008

Churchill’s Pub, Miami

Better Than: Most other new-jack “indie” shows I’ve seen in the past couple of months.

The Review: I was originally going to take a vacation from scribbling notes at shows and just check out this Mudhoney gig for fun. But its absolute unexpected awesomeness changed my mind and had me reaching yet again, like a dork, for a pen and a scrap of paper in the middle of a bananas rock show.

Let’s get a couple things out of the way. Mudhoney are better known by music fans at large for influencing other Seattle-area bands that later became huge – who can forget Kurt Cobain’s array of the band’s T-shirts? They’re usually credited with spawning the “grunge” movement (a cringeworthy word at this point). But just five minutes of listening shows they continue a thread of gonzo Stooges-style buzz more than their more derivative followers could ever have hoped to. It’s even more clearly elucidated on Sub Pop’s recent reissue of the band’s debut EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff, in honor of both the band and the label’s 20th birthdays. What you get there is, in essence, real punk rock – half-consciously sloppy, jacked-up, go-to-11 chunks of raw power.

Which brings us back to the show at Churchill’s. The setting was pretty much perfect -- for anti-stars, the place’s grimy, beer-soaked peeling concrete, pool-tables-as-merch-counters, low ceilings, and lack of anything resembling a backstage seemed pretty spot-on.

As for the crowd, well, the band’s lack of MTV-ready faces or radio-ready repetitive hooks, but overload of fuzz fury and barely controlled spastic energy, has kept its fan base over the years smallish but almost intellectually slavish. In the latter-day pseudo-punk scene in which I was raised, keeping an ironic distance was de rigueur and it was frowned upon to wear a band’s T-shirt to its show. But with a decade’s distance from that I can understand why there were plenty of Mudhoney shirts in the audience – I’d be stoked, too, if I had been following a band for 20 years and they were 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 seven or eight to one. And age-wise, well, it seemed like about half of those assembled caught the band at its beginning, maybe a quarter picked up on them late after reaching back from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and the rest were curious music geeks born closer towards the mid-Eighties.… Still, generally all “adult,” which made the later berserker slam-dancing even less expected and funnier.

Local pop-punkers the Getback played an opening set (if you see them play, look real 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 about 11:30, and then of course there was a general 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, 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 that he occasionally let crack into a grin. In general, while the band members are hovering around their mid-forties, they look (against all the laws of rock and roll lifestyles) about ten years younger, and still play like they’re 20 years younger. And as they rip-rolled through their classics (and a tiny smattering of material from their latest album, The Lucky Ones), the fanboys in the crowd only got frothier. At one point, someone actually launched himself a couple feet onto the stage, near the feet of bassist Guy Maddison, only to be summarily forcefully rolled off by a guitar tech who kind of looked like a librarian.

It was at this point that I began to regret thinking my perch against the main room bar was safe, because soon, a multigenerational pit opened, ever-expanding as the band steamrolled 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” – they were all here, spurring balding, air-guitar-ing guys in shorts 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 them keep going. Few bands can claim that, few can witness it in an intimate setting, and if you missed the show last Friday at Churchill’s, well, to put it bluntly, you missed out. – Arielle Castillo

Personal Bias: Eh, none, really, except that I’m usually slightly more inclined to check out older bands finally making it to our geographically isolated pocket of swamp.

Random Detail: As so often happens at these semi-obscure Churchill’s shows, the ratio of guys to girls was about seven or eight to one.

By The Way: The deluxe edition of Superfuzz Bigmuff, as well as Mudhoney’s latest album, The Lucky Ones, are both available now on Sub Pop. Happy birthday, guys!

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Arielle Castillo
Contact: Arielle Castillo