Berlin, 1988. What an odd place and time for a live DVD from Mudhoney. In 1988, Mudhoney hadn’t even existed for a year and the Seattle scene was wasn’t going to send shockwaves around the world for another three. To think that a small crowd of people in Germany would have any interest in watching a new band that arose from the ashes of Green River is a baffling notion. Superfuzz Bigmuff wasn’t even released yet. Yet a German production crew had the foresight to record this show, however crudely, for history’s sake. The sound is exceptional, the camerawork is average, and the historical context that pits this band with this place in this time is just off the chart.
Given everything that’s happened since 1991, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to move one’s mind back to the musical landscape of 1988. If I try hard enough, I can recall the days when I heard the sounds of Green Thoughts, Meat Is Murder, Starfish, Darklands and Document coming from my brother’s bedroom. That’s about as underground as our house got and none of that would have prepared me for the likes of Mudhoney, Seattle’s court jesters. Here was a sound that was far, far removed from anything remotely popular then (according to Wikipedia, George Michael had the top-selling album in America that year with Faith). Yet for some reason, Mark Arm, Steve Turner, Matt Lukin and Dan Peters were selected for an all-expenses-paid trip to Berlin, to represent Sub Pop records at the Independence Days ’88 showcase. Who’s idea was that and how exactly do we give them props today?
Before you pass out from anticipation, be warned that this is not the work of a multimedia production company — less like the concert DVDs of today and more like your home movies of yesterday. One camera stays in the back of the venue and occasionally zooms in and out whenever the operator felt like doing so (admit it, we’ve all been there). A majority of the footage is of Mark Arm singing. All four members of the band have quite the head of hair, though Peters has his done up in rows. Steve Turner’s face is rarely visible and Matt Lukin’s even less so. Frequently, Arm and Turner can become so animated that the cameraman would have no choice but to pull back and capture the whole thing in a wider view.
The setlist won’t surprise any Mudhoney fans. With only the “Touch Me I’m Sick / Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” single available and the Superfuzz Bigmuff EP awaiting a stateside release, that was pretty much the band’s set. The only song not represented from these releases is “Here Comes Sickness”, a number that was to be included on Mudhoney’s forthcoming eponymous album the following year. Even if the crowd might have potentially known only two of the nine songs of the 40-minute set, they are a very encouraging bunch, tolerating Arm’s sometimes nervous, sometimes irreverent attempts at humor in a foreign land: “Ich bin ein Berliner!” “We’re from America! Howdy!” “Pull down your pants if you like us… no one likes us.”
If this show was not one of Mudhoney’s best shows, then it’s certainly very fun. True to their character, they don’t seem to take themselves seriously for one second. Still, the music bangs forth as a force to be reckoned with. All of the things that made those early recordings so odd come out to play in very much the same fashion: the sour note in the guitar solo for “Need”, the convulsing wah puncturing “Here Comes Sickness”, Mark Arm’s Iggy howls from hell, and the ill, splattering guitar tone that kicks off “Touch Me I’m Sick”.
“In ‘n’ Out of Grace” is saved for last, causing the band to musically and visually go for broke. As Dan Peters rattles off his drum solo, Steve Turner and Mark Arm prance about the stage in opposite directions, mimicking an interpretive dance. When the solo is over, in come the atonally dueling guitars as Arm flails uncontrollably before dry humping his stage monitor. It’s priceless.
Strangely enough, this ending up being a very important gig for Mudhoney. Their powerfully snotty set unknowingly sewed the seeds of future gigs in Europe with proper promotion. The show was not heavily attended, but it appeared to be attended by just the right people since Mudhoney still enjoy adoring stints in Germany to this very day. All in a day’s work to the young band though; “…to be flown out to Berlin to play a show, at that point, seemed almost like a joke to us,” Arm recalls many years later. Or as he puts it more firmly in a ten-minute interview on the DVD, “I don’t think we gave a shit, really.”
Thanks to Horst Weidenmüller, his trusty camera and the German record company !K7, you can watch one of America’s greatest never-was bands not giving a shit, Seattle style.