Lately, it’s a sporadic treat for Music City denizens to be invited to a performance at local impresario Jack White’s veritable musical Wonka Factory, Third Man Records. And only twice in two decades has Nashville been treated to an appearance by veteran Seattle grunge poster boys Mudhoney.
As The Spin stepped inside Third Man's ever-sharp-looking Blue Room, local retro punks Cheap Time — fresh off a tour with the headliners — were already a song or two into their set, grinding their proverbial heels into sparkly glam riffs with an overload of snot and sneer. Singer-guitarist Jeffrey Novak's presence comes across so insouciant that it morphs into a sort of anger over his own malaise, and the band's feedback turns into a pop-punk drone — not as catchy as their earlier work, but always fun enough to dig into.
As with all Blue Room shows, the sold-out crowd was required to wait while preparations were made to record the performance direct to acetate — it's a process that is visible throughout 100 percent of the show courtesy of a monitor mounted side-stage. A few moments later, the familiar faces of Mudhoney — which The Spin has spent the past two decades getting to know through videos and album sleeves — were large, in charge and moving about in the flesh. That is, all of them except for that of former bassist Matt Lukin (also a onetime member of The Melvins), who was replaced around a decade ago by Aussie Guy Maddison.
Four bars into “Slipping Away” — the trippy, raucous opener from their latest, Vanishing Point — Mudhoney's superfuzz, Big Muffery, rumbling sludge and squealing guitargasms were murdering our cochlea. Lead guitarist Steve Turner’s fuzz-driven riffs were the primary culprit, and drummer Dan Peters’ pyrotechnic drum interludes punched through the band’s signature sludge as prominently as ever. Obviously, a band that's existed for a quarter-century comes in towing a truckload of back catalog with them. Requests were already being shouted, and in a total “Oh no they didn't!” moment, frontman Mark Arm & Co. launched into the highlight of their self-titled debut, “Here Comes Sickness.”
As with most Third Man shows, much of the crowd Thursday night was made up of built-in TMR-heads who show up regardless of who’s playing. We glanced back occasionally to identify who those folks might be based on their crossed arms and blank stares. Nevertheless, classics like “Flat out Fucked,” “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” and “When Tomorrow Hits” were met with a small flock of pumping fists.
After side 1 of the record was complete, we got a short intermission while the audio wizards worked their magic. We returned to find the band’s famous dueling guitars stripped to just one, as singer-guitarist Arm — minus guitar — lurched like a young Iggy Pop fresh out of hot yoga. His signature screech seemed unscathed by time and pierced the air just as harshly as any other instrument onstage. Material for the record’s second side was culled entirely from the band’s killer comeback Vanishing Point. However, we were patiently wishing for more high school anthems, or perhaps a few late-career highlights, before we left the room. The Spin was more than pleased when Mudhoney gave us exactly what we wanted. In fact, we'd like to think a riot might have ensued had the band not played “Touch Me I’m Sick” — a riot led by The Spin's angsty inner high school burnout.
During Mudhoney's encore, they not only ripped through their famous cover of The Dicks' “Hate the Police,” but also tacked on a rendition of Black Flag’s “Fix Me” before leaving us for good — fully drunk, ears ruined with grins across all of our faces.