By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Arguably the most durable and consistent of the Seattle bands that rose to fame during the early ’90s grunge explosion, Mudhoney helped put Sub Pop and the fledgling Northwestern scene on the map when the label unleashed the sleazy punk grind of the band’s seminal “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More/Touch Me I’m Sick” single in 1988.
Principles Mark Arm (born Mark McLaughlin) and Steve Turner first started playing in bands together with the less than serious group Limp Richerds before forming Green River in the mid-1980s with future Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard. Hailed by some as a proto grunge act for their mix of ’70s hard rock and ’80s punk sounds, the group toured nationally and released several records before disintegrating.
Founded only weeks after Green River dissolved with former Melvins bassist Matt Lukin and drummer Dan Peters rounding out the quartet, Mudhoney was equally indebted to classic hardcore, Funhouse-era Stooges, the proto-metal biker anthems of Blue Cheer, and the Northwest’s deep garage-rock heritage (particularly the Sonics and the Wailers). The outfit created a feral racket that had an immediate impact with the release of its first aforementioned single and subsequent EP Superfuzz Bigmuff — named after the vintage Univox Super-Fuzz and the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff effect pedals that were a cornerstone to their buzzsaw guitar sound.
Following the underground success of the band’s eponymous 1989 debut and the early career peak Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge two years later, the band would make the jump from Sub Pop to a major-label contract when they signed to Warner/Reprise to release Piece of Cake in 1992. While they didn’t rise to the platinum success of Seattle contemporaries Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, Mudhoney managed to consistently churn out one raucous yet tuneful effort after another through the decade even as the other Seattle bands fell apart amid tragedy and acrimony.
Mudhoney remained at the label through the 1990s and appeared in the Chris Farley/David Spade comedy Black Sheep, but the modest sales of subsequent albums My Brother the Cow and Tomorrow Hit Today (made with noted producer Jim Dickinson, who had helmed recordings for Big Star and the Rolling Stones) led the record company to drop the band in 1999. Bassist Lukin would depart soon after.
But despite those challenges, Mudhoney would soldier on, recruiting Lubricated Goat bassist Guy Maddison in 2001 and returning to Sub Pop to release a string of solid albums. Over 30 years after they started, Arm and Turner are still swapping careening, fuzz-drenched leads over the explosive rhythms of Peters and Maddison and wowing audiences with their ferocious live performances, including a blazing set at Oakland’s Burger Boogaloo this past July. Last fall, the band issued Digital Garbage, its first new effort in five years.
The record finds Arm delivering sneering, angry screeds that rage against everything from conservative Christians (“Messiah’s Lament,” “21st Century Pharisees”) and right-wing nuts (“Paranoid Core”) to mass shootings (“Please Mr. Gun”) and social media (“Kill Yourself Live”). The quartet delivers classic tunes and songs from its most politically charged album in years when Mudhoney comes to the Bay Area for two shows this weekend. On Friday, the band headlines the Independent in San Francisco before heading to the South Bay for a concert at the Ritz in San Jose Saturday night. For both shows, the group will be joined by SF punk legends the Avengers, who still include charismatic original lead singer Penelope Houston and founding guitarist Greg Ingraham in the line-up.
Mudhoney with the Avengers
Friday, Feb. 8, 8:30 p.m. $27-$30
Saturday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m. $25-$30