Melody Maker | Live | 20 May 1989
MUDHONEY / SOUNDGARDEN
School Of African & American Studies, London
There's no containing Seattle's Soundgarden. Vocalist Chris Cornell – part monkey, part Adonis and all of a doo-dah – is stripped to the waist, flaunting his bronze and his brawn. The hands of Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto, one of East Indian descent, one of Japanese, zip along the necks of their instruments, their heads bucking in blissful unison. Their bodies are hopelessly devoted to the fight. Their souls are abandoned to the slash and burn, the tatters and ashes of this merry prank.
Soundgarden hammer an unglamorous and bewitching metal montage. Sticky sweet melodies are spread over thick, raw rhythms and each element gnaws at the others with a voracious intent. "All Your Lies" is thrice reduced to a pulp, each time refashioned into a fresh peak of drama, and "Flowers" is a teeth-marked mess of simultaneous guitar and drum solos. "Kingdom Of The Come" ends up much the same way. The words of "We Want Your Love" crumble as the gaps in the song allow a sharp intake of breath. With "Beyond The Wheel", they spiral and soar high above the thump and grind. Each barrage is both awesome and euphoric.
"We're Black Sabbath, thank you and good night," is Cornell's parting shot, but his frivolity cannot compare with the abject playfulness of Mudhoney. Moments into their opening number, frontman Mark Arm dives into the audience and, despite the efforts of his comrades, the song disintegrates. It takes several minutes for Arm to scramble back onstage and several more for his whining, shrieking, creaking guitar to be retrieved from whoever in the crowd is holding it aloft like a war trophy.
"I'd like to take this opportunity to invite everybody onstage," says Arm as he straps his guitar back on. He should have known better. What follows is pure pandemonium. Dozens of people clamber up, then scores more, and many cannot be persuaded to leave. Some are still there when the band eventually struggle through the first song, following which Arm declares that they're not going to play anything else, "Until each and every one of you gets on top of the speakers". A handful take him at his word. "Folk are less gullible where we come from," he giggles.
The comedy of errors continues as Mudhoney's second song is quickly brought to a halt when some of the trestle tables that make up the front of the stage collapse. The rest are removed and the set finally begins in earnest, even though there's now barely enough room for the drumkit, the monitors are blocked by people trying to keep others climbing up and over, one column of lights is missing, and one bank of speakers is adrift. More than half an hour after their initial appearance, the band launch into "Chain That Door", their third song.
Naturally, Mudhoney thrive on the chaos. Elbows jabbing, feet stomping, hair everywhere, every chord, every beat and every word is delivered with a furious enthusiasm. "Chain That Door" is as rough as a cat's tongue on the cheek of a sleeping babe and "Touch Me, I'm Sick" is an overdose of undiluted adrenalin. It's a restless rush, and when the two halves of the microphone stand slip into each other, Arm crouches down to keep singing. A song that may or may not be called "Here Comes Sickness" buzzes with popadelic knavery and "If I Think" trips from a state of harmonic grace to one of grubby discordance.
The greatest thrills come with long and winding renditions of "Mudride" and "In And Out Of Grace", the former a sullen drag, Steve Turner's guitar squeezing wheezes and flushing a flurry of effects-loaded notes, some completely incompatible, through its veins. The latter begins with the two guitars running side by side, giving and taking blows until the drums deal heavier bruises. It soon becomes a splendid debacle. Of course, no attempt is made to regain control.
"In And Out Of Grace" is the last song and Mudhoney refuse to play an encore. Thankfully. On such an extraordinary night, that would have been one pang too many to bear.