The drum break in set closer “In ‘N’ Out Of Grace” builds toward orgasm. The guitar sprays thick wah loads and then lets a power chord resonate like a delirious exhalation. Mudhoney singer Mark Arm steps to the mic and—with his trademark nasally snarl—screams, “Oh god, how I love to haaaaate,” through a wry smile.
It is the quintessential Mudhoney moment. Yes, the distorted frenzy following a slow build is textbook grunge formula, but the band’s dung-in-cheek animosity always set it apart from its Pacific Northwest brethren. Where Soundgarden wailed, Mudhoney sneered. Where Nirvana wrung hands, Mudhoney grabbed balls.
More than a quarter century into its career, and Mudhoney is still authentic, which may account for its lack of household name recognition. In fact, prior to tonight’s show in Rouen’s 106 club, Arm and guitarist Steve Turner conducted a radio interview, during which the local DJ cheekily commented that Mudhoney was witness to the grunge phenomenon, as it unfolded.
The insinuation wasn’t lost on Arm: “[The other bands] were on the playing field. We were in the front row.”
Indeed, despite recording multiple full-lengths for a major label in the ’90s, Mudhoney never left the garage. But for all its dust and dank, that garage produced a number of enduring anthems.
The performance tonight features a healthy dose of those classics: “If I Think,” “Broken Hands,” a cover of the Dicks’ “Hate The Police” and, of course, the incendiary “Touch Me I’m Sick” with the most irresistible riff since the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Although they may lack some of the bite of the original recordings, “Suck You Dry” and “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” compensate by sounding so much heavier, which actually adds an interesting new color.
Even the newer tracks impress and excite: the celebratory bounce to “I Like It Small” and the hardcore hysteria of “Chardonnay” (both from 2013’s Vanishing Point) energize a crowd that is 5,000 miles removed from the group’s hometown Seattle and on average two decades younger than the band members. But great punk—and Mudhoney certainly fits that description—transcends geographical and generational barriers.
That rich, healthy hatred expressed in the final encore just may explain why Mudhoney is so genuine, so consistently refreshing. Punk is about revolution, and revolutionaries require a foil to piss them off.
An extensive backlog of punk masterpieces, an unfailingly snotty attitude, and a mastery of the form that has survived middle age. What’s not to hate?