HERE COMES SICKNESS – Mudhoney Bring Their 30th Anniversary Tour To London’s Camden Electric Ballroom

A little over a decade after punk kicked over the traces with its back to basics approach, a gaggle of lumberjack-shirted miscreants from Seattle picked up the baton and ran with it.

Reared on diet of hardcore, MC5 and The Stooges, Mudhoney were at the vanguard of  the grunge revolution and their debut mini-album Superfuzz Bigmuff remains a defining document of the times.

At once a howling squall of rage and disaffection and a great party record, Superfuzz…opened the world’s eyes to the new sound emanating from Waskington State.


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Parodied by the band themselves on Overblown, the hype machine immediately went into overdrive, trailing bands like Pearl JamAlice In Chains and Soundgarden in its wake.

Ironically Mudhoney’s flair for self-sabotage meant they never quite made it to the big leagues, but maybe that’s just the way they like it.

Three decades on, they’re as snotty, sarcastic and absurdly relevant as ever.

Acerbic frontman Mark Arm‘s skewed social commentary on new album Digital Garbage serving as the caustic conscience of a corrupt mainstream

Matt Catchpole (words) and Sam Wells (pictures) caught up with them live as their 30th anniversary tour arrived at Camden’s Electric Ballroom.

Righteously minded – Thee Hypnotics’ Jim Jones Picture by Sam Wells

Back after a near 20-year hiatus, support act High Wycombe’s Thee Hypnotics look like they’ve never been away.

Former Sub Pop label mates of Mudhoney, they reformed in January this year, reviving their peculiar brand of mesmerising psychedelic heavy rock.

Looking like a cross between Jack White and early Big Night Out-era Vic ReevesJim Jones is a confident and charismatic frontman.

And in co-founder Ray Hanson – three parts Jimi Hendrix, to one part Jack Sparrow – they have a guitarist of rare talent.

Sadly through no fault of their own,  the early part of their set is hampered by poor sound quality – the mixing desk clearly struggling to get to grips with their expansive sound.

However once this gets sorted, the band really give it some welly – the introduction of second guitarist Barrie Cadogan (Primal Scream, Johnny Marr, The The) adding an extra dimension for the last two tracks.

On this evidence, it’ll be very be intriguing to see what this incarnation comes up with, if they stick around long enough to record any new material.

Justice in Freedom – Thee Hypnotics go for broke Picture by Sam Wells

Though Thee Hypnotics draw a generous crowd, the Ballroom is absolutely rammed for the arrival of Mudhoney.

With virtually no introduction the band strap on their guitars and launch into Here Comes Sickness.

There’s that familiar wash of Super Fuzz distortion and I’m instantly transported back to my teenage years, when grunge was in its infancy and Mudhoney were headlining a Sub Pop tour, featuring Tad and some up-and-coming trio called Nirvana.

Tonight’s not all about nostalgia of course and among the crowd there are plenty of bright young things, who’ve clearly discovered the band from recent albums like The Lucky Ones and Vanishing Point.

Songs from this year’s Digital Garbage are liberally dotted throughout a set that references their entire 30-year lifespan.

The best of these, Paranoid Core and the searing 21st Century Pharisees are well on the way to becoming live classics in their own right.

Oh Yeah – Mudhoney shake Camden’s Paranoid Core Picture by Sam Wells

Now all in their 50s, the band don’t leap about with the quite same gymnastic intensity as in their early days, but if anything this only adds power to the performance.

Stripped of visual histrionics, the band concentrate on the music, delivering fast, no-nonsense rock and roll.

And while they may look more like groovy college professors than the skinny long hairs of yore, there’s no doubting their stamina, as they plough through an epic 30-song set.

With the band maintaining a furious pace throughout, it takes all of about four songs before the first crowd surfer appears.

Dozens of others follow, the broiling mass at the front politely pausing to pass them over their shoulders, before plunging back into the slamming throng.

Arm, free of all his various drink and drug addictions, looks in as good a shape as he’s ever been.

The Farther I Go – Mark Arm the godfather of grunge Picture by Sam Wells

His voice holds up too, growling and screaming as he vents his spleen at well chosen targets.

Sometimes you wish he’d interact with the audience more, but that would check the momentum of the performance and, besides, it’s not really what Mudhoney are about.

A tighter outfit than they’re given credit for, they’ve developed as songwriters, with ‘new’ bassist Aussie Guy Maddison – on board since 2001 – proving a valuable addition.

But they remain remarkably free of ego – each musician content to serve the songs, rather than fall victim to flabby self-indulgence.

These may be grunge icons on stage, but such is the intimacy of the performance, you could be watching any four mates playing for fun in their basement.

Drummer Dan Peters is the embodiment of this philosophy, holding the band together, but also showing the taste and feel to give the others space to play.

A curious mixture of refinement and abandon, lead guitarist Steve Turner has expanded his repertoire of riffs over the years, even allowing himself the odd solo.

But it’s his instinctive, untamed interplay with Arm, that makes Mudhoney such an exciting live act.

You Got It – Mudhoney play dirty Picture by Sam Wells

Tossed out surprisingly early in the set, the pounding power chords of Touch Me I’m Sick get a warm welcome, but it’s follow up If I Think that really gets them going in the mosh pit.

Band favourite Suck You Dry gets a rapturous reception, along with I’m Now – the song chosen as the title of the 2012 documentary on the group.

An extended encore, sees the band paying dues to bands they love, with four covers including The Leather Nun‘s Ensam I Natt  and closing number Fix Me by Black Flag.

After an exhausting two hours the band say their final goodbyes, a greedy crowd still baying for more.

A tantalising glimpse of what Nirvana may have become had sales of Nevermind not gone quite so bananas, Mudhoney remain the standard-bearers for thought-provoking, no frills, underground rock.

While some of their appeal may rely on past glories, in these uncertain times they have never seemed more necessary.

  • Digital Garbage is out now through Sub Pop Records on this link.
  • For more about Mudhoney, including tour dates, visit their website here.

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About the author

Full time journalist, music lover (obvs) and truly terrible guitarist. You can find Matt on twitter @matcatch