Originally published in the CJLO Magazine.
As far as I can make out, "edgy" occurs when middlebrow, middle-aged profiteers are looking to suck the energy—not to mention the spending money—out of the "youth culture". So they come up with this fake concept of seeming to be dangerous, when every move they make is the result of market research and a corporate master plan. –Daria Morgendorffer
Way back in the early 1990s, while my friends were still listening to bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, my co-worker Ben Gunning gave me a cassette by a then little-known band called Mudhoney. The tape was Superfuzz Bigmuff, and the music was unlike anything I had heard before: it was metal, it was hard rock, it was garage, it was punk, and it was fucking filthy.
Not long after receiving that cassette, I was listening to Claude Rajotte on the radio, and he urged his listeners to head over to Foufounes Électriques that week to check out another Seattle band called Nirvana. Rajotte said something to the effect that Nirvana was not to be missed because their sound was going to become the next big thing. I liked the Nirvana material Rajotte was spinning well enough, and the show at Foufs was only four bucks (yeah, I know!), so I figured "why not?" and carted my under-age ass downtown a couple of days later. I don't think Nirvana's performance made that much of an impression on me at the time, but that angsty blond guy named Kurt Cobain was interesting enough, so I filed the band under "to keep an eye on" and went back to playing my Mudhoney tape.
Then suddenly it was Grunge.
Nirvana exploded into the mainstream shortly after "Smells Like Teen Spirit" played in a late-night timeslot on MTV. Within a year, another Seattle band called Pearl Jam made its way to the alternative charts with their album Ten, and "Jeremy" became a hit video on Much Music here in Canada. Every girl at CEGEP John Abbott swooned over Eddie Vedder. There was "grunge fashion" (long hair, plaid shirts, ripped jeans, and beanies), "grunge speak" (I'm bound and hagged, just swingin' on the flippity-flop wearing my fuzz, but don't worry it ain't no harsh realm 'cause my dish is coming over later and we're gonna get bloated), and even "grunge couture" (lest we forget Marc Jacobs' collection for Perry Ellis printed on the pages of American Vogue).
Not many people who lived outside of Washington state in 1992-93 (myself included) realized that the scene we then knew as "Grunge" was nothing new. Many of the Seattle acts that were suddenly getting some mainstream attention had already been together—in one form or another—for almost a decade. Lots of other bands from outside of Seattle (Dinosaur Jr., for example) were also lumped into that "Edgy! New! Grunge Scene!" simply because their music was raw and heavy, and probably used the same guitar effects pedals as those on Superfuzz Bigmuff. Canada even had its very own mini Seattle-like scene in Halifax with bands like Sloan and Eric's Trip.
The way I remember it, and I don't remember much, Grunge came to a screeching halt when Kurt Cobain passed away in April 1994. Subsequently, the scene became watered down with bands whose music somewhat resembled what came before, but with a style and a subject matter that was more commercially "acceptable" and "radio-friendly". Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill was the new angry, and Grunge was "dead" (to me anyway) just as Kurt Cobain's t-shirt predicted back in 1992.
Growing up sucks. I eventually lost my Mudhoney cassette to an old boyfriend and sold my soul to corporate America after University working a boring desk job for 15 years. I never did get to see Mudhoney perform live when Grunge was at its peak, and the last time I listened to them was in 1995 when My Brother the Cow came out on that fancy new music format called the compact disc.
Fast forward to 2013 at a record store. On the board was the list of shows coming to town in September, and Mudhoney was one of them. I got to talking with the store clerk about the band, told him how much I used to love them as a kid, and he told me their latest LP, Vanishing Point, was the perfect album for the 40-and-over crowd. Although I was just a few weeks short of my 40th birthday at the time, I picked the record up anyway, gave it a listen, and he was so right!
Mudhoney's ninth full-length album is modern and has that perfect mixture of primal, distorted grunginess that the band is known for, along with the awesome psychedelic fuzz that were hearing from the next generation of performers like Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin. I knew I finally had to catch the band live. So there I was on September 1st, 2013 at Il Motore—23 years after receiving Superfuzz Bigmuff from my friend—seeing Mudhoney for the first time.
I thought it was super cool that the band, with no delusions of grandeur, was booked to play such a small venue. When I got there, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that quite a few young fans, genuinely excited to be there, were in attendance along with seasoned fans of Mudhoney (now sporting their short, corporate haircuts, plain t-shirts, and fully-intact jeans).
The majority of Mudhoney's set consisted of songs from Vanishing Point, along with fan favourites like "Sweet Young Thing" and "Touch Me I'm Sick" from Superfuzz Bigmuff, and "F.D.K" from My Brother the Cow, peppered throughout to make the old gang happy. I particularly loved hearing their new material performed live, especially "The Final Course", which was ferocious, distortion-heavy, energetic, and full of angst.
I felt honoured to finally witness what talented musicians Mark Arm (vocals, guitar), Guy Maddison (bass guitar), Dan Peters (drums), and Steve Turner (guitar) truly are. Mudhoney is a band that knows how to play real punk rock, and they still have it going with a bullet! Scorching guitars, a solid back beat, and a vocal performance complete with all the anger and attitude fitting for generations past and present. This show, for me, shed the band of the unfortunate and trivialising "grunge" moniker of bygone days.
At this point Mark Arm, barely speaking and drinking wine from a bottle, engaged in staring contests with audience members and knocked over his crimson liquid before segwaying into "Chardonnay" and "The Only Son of the Widow from Nain". The band left the stage for a short time, then returned for the encore, which was nice and long and freaking rad. They played some kick-ass cover songs from Black Flag and The Dicks, and more Mudhoney tracks, including "Here Comes Sickness" and "When Tomorrow Hits" from their self-titled debut studio album.
This show gave me everything I wanted, and Mudhoney will always be (well, to me anyway) the band that escaped edgy.
--Stephanie Dee hosts Champions of the Local Scene (Wednesdays, 6-7 PM) and Twee Time (Fridays, 8-9 pm). Follow her on Twitter @tweegirl.
I Like It Small
You Got It
Suck You Dry
Get Into Yours
F.D.K. (Fearless Doctor Killers)
In This Rubber Tomb
Sweet Young Thing (Ain't Sweet No More)
Judgement, Rage, Retribution and Thyme
No One Has
Touch Me I'm Sick
What to Do With the Neutral
The Final Course
I Don't Remember You
The Only Son of the Widow from Nain
Here Comes Sickness
When Tomorrow Hits
In 'N' Out of Grace
The Money Will Roll Right In (Fang cover)
Hate the Police (Dicks cover)
Fix Me (Black Flag cover)