Concert Review: Mudhoney (Valentine’s, Albany, New York, October 19, 1998)

Mudhoney by the numbers: ten years, four dudes, two guitars, one genre-defining album, zero rock stars. That last number tends to surprise some people, seeing as how two of the dudes once played in Pearl Jam predecessor Green River, one of the dudes was an early member of Nirvana and the other dude played with famed muck-rockers the Melvins. Surprise over the lack of rock stars is also understandable given that Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff is one of the defining early documents of the over-hyped musical phenomenon that ultimately killed Kurt Cobain. And no, that wouldn’t be Courtney Love, dumbasses, that would be grunge.

The mystery of the missing Mudhoney rock stars gets even more interesting once you’ve seen Mudhoney in concert, as the quartet of regular beer-drinkin’, t-shirt wearin’, rock n’ rollin’ Joe’s have forged an unbelievably inspirational, adulation-worthy attack after playing together for a decade. Quite simply put, Mudhoney have got the complete package: tunes with great hooks, a singer with great looks, nasty lyrics guaranteed to make even the most jaded 16 year old male say “huh huh,” monstrous guitars, taut rhythms, short songs that don’t tax your attention span . . . shit, what else could you want from a rock star? And why oh why haven’t the ultimately likeable Mudhoney earned the right to pontificate from high places the way Pearl Jam have? Well?!

Singer-guitarist Mark Arm offered some crucial insight into the mystery Monday night as his band took the stage for an encore and was barraged by song requests from the crowd. “We’re not a juke-box,” he noted as strapped on his guitar. “We’ve got our own agenda.” And at that point, the band’s agenda included playing three self-chosen, high-octane numbers that worked perfectly well as crowd-whippers and frenzy-builders, but that are never likely to be spotted on the selection list of any commercial jukebox in an money-earning establishment.

Given that most of us would rather be part of a frenzied crowd than be quarter-pushers in front of the Pizza Hut jukebox, it would seem that Mudhoney would earn kudos instead of disrespect for their low-profile approach to surviving grunge. They certainly earned a big bag of big bad props Monday night as they stomped through a representative selection of their catalog, wrapping their arm’s around nuggets from Superfuzz Bigmuff (the aforementioned genre-defying document), the new-ish Tomorrow Hits Today and just about everything in between.

Arm proved himself a consummate front-man throughout, singing and groaning and shrieking with one of those elementally ragged, great rock voices that every teenage garage band singer in America would kill for. His guitar interplay with Turner was equally riveting, demonstrating that both players either must have listened to a lot of Wishbone Ash in the ’70s or that neither player ever listens to the other one is doing. Lukins and Peters, for their part, anchored the bottom to keep the whole contraption from blowing away under its own wind and steam. All told, a fine performance by a great rock band, rock stars or not.

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