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Live in Berlin, 1988
The ascent of Seattle rock in the late ’80s and early ’90s has long since been codified in blurry images of Kurt Cobain leaping, thrashing, and single-handedly saving rock primitivism from the clutches of hairspray-poisoned, corporate-rock oligarchy. It’s convenient historical shorthand, but were Cobain alive to weigh in on the subject, he’d probably be the first to remind us that the true Northwest vanguards were a rather ragged and mighty foursome called Mudhoney.
The Live in Berlin, 1988 DVD is a remarkable document, and not just for the foresight that found a German camera crew capturing the then-virtually unknown Mudhoney with relatively high-quality video and audio (the latter has been released on CD as part of the Superfuzz Bigmuff Deluxe Edition). Indeed, Live in Berlin is one of those artifacts that should forever alter the popular creation myth around Nevermind and the year that punk broke. Here, nearly a year before Nirvana’s first LP, Bleach, hit the bins, Mudhoney assaults an unwary German audience with an ecstatic, adrenal, and unhinged barrage of the Stooges/Sabbath/Scientists distillate that Nirvana would borrow for their own punk-pop stew.
The torn jeans, shaggy hair, and blue Fender Mustangs and Hagstroms offer visual reminders about how the fashion and guitar industries would soon co-opt the look of broke, suburban, West Coast skate punks. But the songs and performance are nuggets of tattered beauty. The irreverence and disdain for careerist rock posturing takes shape as guitarists Mark Arm and Steve Turner pirouette through Dan Peters’ drum solo on “In ‘n’ Out of Grace.” Turner and Arm’s guitar work emphasizes the power of space truckin’ riffs above all, and solos more often than not are unbridled wah and slide wipeouts merging Ron Asheton’s psych-punk with Sonic Youth’s art attack impulses. It’s unlikely anyone was aware of the wrecking-ball force with which these elements would upend popular culture a few short years later. But it’s a blast to watch these true Kings of Seattle so joyously and presciently grease the wheels. —Charles Saufley