1. The Catheters. As they come from the same town (Seattle) and record for the same label (Sub Pop) as the headliners, The Catheters should be an ideal support act. We duly wander into the venue (and yes, it really is a boat club) to be confronted by some very intense shouty young men thrashing about the stage with copious amounts of gusto (and, indeed, brio). It’s all very Punk Rock. Ooh, this looks good, we think.
Unfortunately, The Catheters turn out to be playing their last number. A shame, but we’ve still got two more bands to watch. In any case, two bands are plenty; more than that, and one might start to suffer from cultural indigestion.
2. The Alchemysts. I am full of initial goodwill for The Alchemysts (tonight’s token English band). “Psychedelic garage pop”, the reviews had said, and I could do with some of that tonight.
Nope, sorry. What follows is stolid, stodgy and dull. Various classic rock licks are unimaginatively re-hashed and served up cold, like yesterday’s lumpy porridge. The chord changes are teeth-grindingly predictable. The fake New York / mid-70s / CBGB’s singing voices quickly start to grate. Influences remain resolutely un-transcended. The crowd’s reaction dips from encouraging through to polite. Along with a large chunk of the audience, we eventually drift back to the bar.
3. Mudhoney. The original godfathers of Seattle Grunge are back in the UK for just four nights (this being the first of them), with their first proper new album in four years to promote; accordingly, their initial reception is thunderous.
The band start fantastically well: the whole room is going barmy, the mosh pit’s a-moshing, the head-nodders at the back are a-nodding, and the whole vibe is “return of the conquering heroes”. I am almost entirely unfamiliar with their work (which is one of the reasons I’ve come along to investigate), and I find myself wishing I could join in with the air-punching “OhmygodtheyreplayingTHISone” reaction of ecstatic recognition which greets some of the tunes.
The front man (Mark Arm) has the face of someone who has been to Hell and back, and come up smiling – the sort of face you’ll only find in rock and roll bands. He’s in a good mood, and the whole atmosphere is all very celebratory, very “up”. There is precious little of the expected tortured angst on display. It’s not very Grunge at all. At least, not for the first twenty minutes or so…
None of the above, then, has prepared me for the long slow slide which follows, as Mudhoney grind inexorably on, and on, and on. They are skull-crushingly heavy. The songs are getting slower, more angst-ridden, and decidedly Grunge-like. I am soon reminded of why I let the movement largely pass me by in the early 90s. The mosh pit is no longer moshing (much). It has all become something of an endurance test.
Which makes the final encore (two songs) even more of a surprise. Whaddya know? Mudhoney are suddenly completely FANTASTIC all over again – right “out there” – going at it full throttle – blisteringly, intoxicatingly raw and riveting. The crowd are going apeshit, with even some of the head-nodders attempting some last minute mini-moshing of their own. The final tune is something which the band had recorded for a John Peel session the previous night. Apparently, it’s a cover of a song by an British band, which we are all supposed to recognise. The best guess we can come with is latter-day Primal Scream. Anyway, who cares, it’s FANTASTIC.
Our final consensus (all five of us): short sets can be GOOD things. Most of us are still nursing fond memories of The Libertines earlier in the year, who played for not much more than half an hour, and yet delivered a perfect performance. Keep it short, keep it snappy, keep it Punk Rock, and ditch that bloated mid-set sag!