Seattle’s music scene is fast becoming known for its bearded folk rock and burgeoning hip hop, but Friday at Neumos the flannel flag flew high once again with a triple-bill featuring Unnatural Helpers, Brother of the Sonic Cloth, and Mudhoney.
The show was in celebration of photographer Michael Lavine’s book Grunge, and the lineup did a great job of capturing the essence of the book, making it feel like 1992 all over again. Lavine was one of two photogs hired by Sub Pop to visually capture the bands that helped define a musical movement. He spent the late 1980s and early '90s living in Olympia and later moved to New York where he shot various Sub Pop acts (TAD, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Fluid, Skin Yard) along with other important alt-rock bands of the time (Sonic Youth, Hole, White Zombie, Pearl Jam) as they passed through town.
The book features photos of all the aforementioned bands and dozens more, and is a striking visual document that chronicles the culture and look of an era. It is similar to what Lavine’s colleague Charles Peterson, who also shot for Sub Pop during the grunge days, did with his book Touch Me I’m Sick a few years back. One of the main differences between the two is that Peterson’s style emphasized the action on stage and in the crowd; Lavine’s shots are more candid and playful band photos.
Although the Neumos show was technically a book release party, aside from Lavine being on hand signing and selling copies of his work there was not real emphasis on Grunge the book; rather it was more about grunge the sound, which felt appropriate considering the book visually represents sound. And what better band to have representing that sound on stage than Mudhoney?
“These photos are mind-blowing for those of us who are old enough to remember,” Mudhoney frontman Mark Arm told the crowd before starting the band’s set with a cover of Fang’s “The Money Will Roll Right In.” It’s a song the band has covered previously, and astute grunge scholars will know it’s also a song Nirvana covered during its famous 1992 Reading Festival set as well as a song Arm performed onstage with Kurt, Krist and Dave (check out the video here).
From there the grungiest of grunge bands blazed through a near two-hour set that spanned its 21-year career. The set proved once again that Arm is still capable of commanding the stage like the proud graduate of the Iggy Pop School of Frontmen he is, and that guitarist Steve Turner can still shred with the best of them. Plenty of new material from the band’s 2008 release The Lucky Ones made the set including the title track, “I’m Now,” and “Tales of Terror,” which was a late highlight. An earlier highlight was Turner tearing it up on the one-two combo of “Suck You Dry” and “Oblivion.” The performance was one of the best Mudhoney sets I’ve witnessed out of the dozen or so times I’ve seen the band, and according to UC Berkeley’s Mudhoney Tourbook it was the longest set of the band’s career. It was an impressive showing by one of the most important bands to hail from the Emerald City.
Tad Doyle, former frontman of TAD, a lesser known but still very important grunge band, played with his new band Brothers of the Sonic Cloth before Mudhoney’s set. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth’s songs combine ground-moving drums with deep, bowel-shaking bass while Doyle’s dark and heavy guitar cuts through it all. There are not a lot of vocals happening with BOTSC but when Doyle screams it is a scream that makes you pay attention.
At one point during BOTSC’s set Doyle asked how many people in the crowd worshiped Satan. He didn’t say why he was asking, so maybe he asked because worshiping hailing Satan is an old rock cliché, or perhaps it is because Brother of the Sonic Cloth makes music the Dark Lord himself might appreciate. My money is on the latter. Anyone who has seen the excellent documentary TAD: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears knows Doyle lost some of his hearing due to how loud TAD played onstage and his new band carries on TAD’s excellent ear-popping tradition.
Doyle, Lavine. and the men of Mudhoney weren’t the only scene luminaries at the show. Former Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil was spotted in the back of the room watching his friends Arm and Doyle, with whom he shared the stage earlier this year during an almost Soundgarden reunion. Not many in the crowd noticed Thayil, but he did take time to shake the hands of fans who approached him, including yours truly.
Unnatural Helpers, a band signed to Sub Pop’s imprint label Hardly Art, opened with a 30-minute set of post-grunge grunge. The band makes music that sounds like what Mudhoney might have been if Arm were a singing drummer and he and his bandmates got their start in 2008, not 1988. The local group keeps the Northwest's signature grunge sound of punk-meets-metal alive with the added distinction of having a singing drummer.
Mudhoney set list:The Money Will Roll Right In
The Lucky Ones
You Got It
Suck You Dry
What Moves the Heart?
Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More
Let it Slide
Judgment, Rage, Retribution and Thyme
Touch Me I'm Sick
Hardon for War
When Tomorrow Hits/In 'N' Out of Grace
Hate the Police
Into the Drink
Who You Drivin' Now?
Here Comes Sickness
The Open Mind
Tales of Terror
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