TODAY [THURSDAY], MUDHONEY will play on top of Seattle's best-known landmark, the Space Needle. Not in the revolving restaurant (a mere 500 feet above sea level), or on the open-air observation platform, a further 20 feet up, but actually on the tiny platform beneath the 605-foot tower's aircraft beacon. Safety harnesses will be required, and with no room up there for an actual audience, to prove they actually go through with it Seattle's community radio station KEXP will brave the elements to record the set.
Two weeks after Sub Pop opened its doors, Mudhoney cut Touch Me I'm Sick.
It was one such recording which gave Pavitt and his Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman the conviction that their brave new enterprise might have a future. Several weeks into 1988, Arm gave Pavitt a Mudhoney demo tape; in return, he gave Arm a couple of hundred dollars to record with Jack Endino, a local guitarist and budding engineer. Two weeks after Sub Pop opened its doors, Mudhoney cut Touch Me I'm Sick, the song whose primeval leer and dumb pop smarts catalysed not just the record label, but the local scene, a sound – soon to be dubbed 'grunge' – and eventually the city.
Poneman once characterised Mudhoney's importance to Sub Pop as analogous to the Tower Of London's ravens: a mystical bond of mutual support. With Mudhoney as the vanguard, Sub Pop flourished, nurturing other bands who climbed aboard, inspired less by Pavitt and Poneman's inspired hucksterism than the way Mudhoney dispensed their degenerate twist on hardcore-fuelled classic rock: bands such as TAD, The Fluid, and Nirvana. When Mudhoney reluctantly left the financially distraught label in 1991, Sub Pop went into decline. Mudhoney themselves signed to Warner Bros and surfed the post-Nevermind mainstream grunge wave until it dwindled to a puddle. Their major label dropped them, and disillusioned bassist Matt Lukin quit. But like Sub Pop, even amid the leanest times, Mudhoney never gave up. With new member Guy Maddison, they rejoined Sub Pop, by now itself regenerated as a home for idiosyncratic pop auteurs like The Shins and The Postal Service, and embarked upon a new era of heightened creativity.
“Sub Pop could have survived without Nirvana. But Mudhoney's association was vital, existentially.” JONATHAN PONEMAN
Two days before their Space Needle odyssey, Mudhoney fulfilled an only slightly less unusual rendezvous: Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, their first US TV performance in 18 years. They could have played the eternal Touch Me I'm Sick and no one would have complained. But instead the band pummelled through two songs from Vanishing Point, their 10th full-length album, released by Sub Pop on April 1, 2013, exactly 25 years to the day since the label began. With drummer Dan Peters still propelling the machine with the same tight-but-loose finesse that hallmarked those epochal early blasts, now augmented by Guy Maddison's supple precision, and guitarist Steve Turner's wiry lead distortion dollops goading Arm's ever-sardonic screams, they've never been better.
Nor, in a funny sort of way, have they been more important. As Jonathan Poneman acknowledges: "Sub Pop would not have survived without Mudhoney. Sub Pop could have very easily survived without Nirvana – albeit our association with Nirvana obviously afforded us a degree of influence and capitalization that we wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford. But Mudhoney's association was vital, existentially, in a way that no other band has been, before or since. It is the greatest honour of my life, professionally speaking, to continue to be Mudhoney's record label. Because I revere them as a band and as individuals: a group of people who I think do what they do for all the right reasons. I strive to do that, but I don't feel my record of success begins to approach theirs."