Mudhoney And Sub Pop: Was This The Big Finale?

Ultra Lame Fest (Mudhoney, Seaweed, Supersuckers, Pond and Earth), Paramount Theatre, last Saturday. -----------------------------

Mudhoney couldn't figure out what to do for an encore.

First, they made fun of Eric Clapton's definitive 1980s song "Cocaine." Then, they talked about doing a reggae number until singer Mark Arm sheepishly admitted that they knew nothing about reggae.

"But we know everything about grunge!" said guitarist Steve Turner in a sarcastically cheerful voice. He raised a fist lightly, smiled and said, "Grunge!"

They've probably grown tired of the term attributed to them and their record label, Sub Pop. But at Saturday night's Ultra Lame Fest showcase, in what might be their last show as a Sub Pop band, they showed that they indeed do know all about grunge.

When Mudhoney headlined the first Lame Fest showcase in June 1989, "grunge" was a new way to describe the ugly, punk-metal fusion that came out of Seattle, and Lame Fest was a celebration of that. Mudhoney is perhaps days away from signing with Warner Brothers, Arm said yesterday, but nobody could have predicted that at the time.

Nirvana, who also played the 1989 Lame Fest, has since brought grunge to over 6 million homes, but it's Mudhoney's charismatic humor and energy that initially boosted the movement.

Mudhoney's trademark humor was intact last Saturday, but most of the music was tight, snide and forceful. Bassist Matt Lukin jokingly said to drummer Dan Peters, "Skip the intro, let's just rock" before several songs, but the sentiment under the sarcasm was serious. "No One Has," normally a swampy, fast, pounding song, was especially vicious, and "This Gift," usually full of taut reserve, bypassed that in favor of pure anger.

Several songs, however, went into long, exploratory instrumental work. "Dead Love" built and doubled on itself in a long, sprawling version, and a new song called "Make It Now" started with sheets of acetylene noise before collapsing into a continual reverberation.

The audience responded with physical abandon to Mudhoney's streamlined sound. The orchestra pit was filled with slam-dancers during the course of the evening, and people were diving into the pit from the first row of seats all night.

Of the four bands opening for Mudhoney, Seaweed received the best reception, with their brand of melodic punk rock being most conducive to the dancing the crowd yearned for.

Pond, from Portland, was unknown to most of the crowd, and the biggest cheer during their set went to a stage diver who evaded the security guards. Their set, although short and slightly ragged, was charismatic, exuberant, and had some bursts of brilliance.

The Supersuckers had an innovative posture - their guitars hovered somewhere around their knees - but their music wasn't as innovative, drawing from a myriad of three-chord punk bands that have come and gone.

Earth, a two-man band from Olympia, opened the show with a one-song, 15-minute psychology experiment. The audience rushed to the pit when Earth started, expecting to slam dance, but stood aghast as the band played the same four notes over and over with excruciating slowness.