All Tomorrows Parties: Don't Look Back (Mudhoney & Jon Spenser) Camden Koko - 16/9/05, 23/09/05

The Mudhoney set list in particular appeals to me, but, in essence this project is hijacking the trappings of other music, somehow making it just as valid an art form as an evening at the opera. 'Look at us, we grew up'.



September saw the people behind the 'All Tomorrows Parties' festivals organise a series of themed concerts in London. The theme being that they'd get 12 big 'indie' band to lay one of their classic albums in it's entirety. In track order too. Everyone I spoke too about this liked the idea. Reactions ranged from “Yeah: it's a good idea” to “Amazing: I get to see (insert band name here). And I get to see them do (insert album name here) too! Wahey!” And my reaction? Well, it's an interesting idea, and look... I get to see Jon Spencer again. But this nostalgia thing, well, I'm just not sure.


The first of the series that I went to see was Mudhoney performing Superfuzz Bigmuff and Early Singles. I'll admit that when the gig was announced I agreed to go to this as an excuse for a night out with a mate of mine. He's someone who used to go to gigs with me ten, fifteen years ago, but he doesn't do that anymore, certainly not new bands anyway. He's the kind of person that these shows are aimed at. Men of a certain age wanting to relive their youth. For him Mudhoney were an amazing band that reminded him of discovering drugs, of furtive trips to London to see loud, exotic, American bands. He bought their records in the early nineties, fell in love with the idea of the band and went to see them many times. He got bored when grunge got big (some would say he grew up) and forgot about them for fifteen years. I'm sure he occasionally played an old tape and happily thought of all those good times.


For me Mudhoney were a band that allowed me as a teenager to enjoy loud guitars that were fun (not the loud, earnest guitars of Blast First stable), loud guitars without the pomposity of hair rock. Anyway, I bought Mudhoney records in the early nineties, saw them once at the time, fell in love with some of the songs, got bored (some would say matured in my tastes) and moved on. Sure, occasionally I'd dig out a CD when a particular track would somehow jump onto my internal jukebox and I'd need to hear it. So here we were, fifteen years after a band was in their prime (lets face it, fifteen years after we were in our prime) to see what? I was there to see some songs I enjoyed played again. I was impressed with the promotion when I turned up at the venue. I was handed a programme for the whole series of gigs as I entered. This was a glossy, embossed booklet with a page for each night explaining a little about the band, the album of choice and a set list for the gig. I turned to the Mudhoney page and and I like what I see. The set list in particular appeals to me, but, in essence this project is hijacking the trappings of other music, somehow making it just as valid an art form as an evening at the opera. 'Look at us, we grew up'.


Hmm... that's what happened to the crowd too. they're all grown up, but beneath the beer bellies, worry lines and thinning hair there's 1000 excited teenagers waiting for their heroes to take them back in time. This isn't beginning to feel right. Mudhoney take to the stage. I recognise Mark Arm, but none of the others. To be fair, I never would have done, but they look the right age. Straight away they tear into us with Touch Me I'm Sick, we all join in: chanting the title at the right point in the chorus. I'm actually enjoying this. As the final notes of the song subside and the crowds cheers die down, Mark approaches the microphone. "You can all go home now" he sneers. That's more like it, a healthy disrespect for everything. It must be odd to be forced into playing your most loved song first: laying your ace on the table straight from the off, but maybe it's a relief too... get's it out of the way. The rest of the set rattles by at a fair old pace. I'm enjoying the ones I always have enjoyed, and even appreciating the ones I used to find a little dull. I'm shocked at my own reaction to If I Think, for some reason I have a lump in my throat. Now I understand, here's the power of nostalgia.


Mudhoney have plenty of banter for the crowd and each other, and seem to be enjoying themselves. They come on for an encore which, in their own words, bring us all the way up to the late 90's. Well past the time that I knew them, and I get a little bored. I meet up with my mate afterwards: he had the time of his life.



Five Days later I'm back, this time to see The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion perform Orange. Now, JSBX is a band who I'm still in touch with, by that I mean that I still buy their records when they come out and make sue that I go to see them when they tour. I don't think of them of a band from my past: they're a band from now. I'll admit that sometimes I wish they'd play some of their old songs live: the best they've managed in the past couple of years is a half arsed medley of crowd pleasers. So I am looking forward to tonight: my wish has come true. I'm happier with the crowd too: they look like a normal JSBX outing, they pull a slightly older crowd anyway. So here they come: Judah, Russell and Jon. Jon and Judah are wearing matching, terrible, orange outfits. Pale orange trousers, shirts and (what look like) wooly pullovers. Yuck. Thank the lord that they didn't get Russell kitted out like that too: he'd look like the Tango Man's punk brother. Yeah! Bellbottoms is a great opener: that killer riff, the driving rhythm, Jon screaming. If anyone needs the JSBX brew distilled into fine whisky, this is what you give them. The next few numbers rumble along at an acceptable pace, keeping us all happy. I take the chance to look around me: everyone is concentrating on the stage - these guys know how to hold an audience - everyone is happy. Dang nearly blows my head off.


It's during Sweat that I notice just how faithful they're being to the album. I seem to remember some ad-libbing with the words when I've seen them play it before, but tonight it's straight from the record: word for word. I'm starting to think. Yes: this is good. Yes I'm enjoying it, but I think the band must feel heavily restricted by playing one album in strict order. Maybe the orange clothes are a physical manifestation of this restriction. They have to play orange, they dress in orange. This, what I'm watching now, is Orange made real, tactile. I can't get these thoughts out of my head during the slower numbers that they're playing now. Orange, Brenda and Dissect are giving me too much time to think.


I have a few personal favourites coming up now, and my mood rises. A very odd part of the night is when minor British tv celeb. Mark Lamar stands in for Beck, doing the rap at the end of Flavor. Never mind, it means that there's still a smile on my face when the band leave the stage. After keeping us waiting a long time, they come on for the encore. Now this is more like it. Russell hasn't changed, but Judah is now wearing jeans and a black, leather jacket. Jon Spencer has gone into full rock dandy mode: sharp suit trousers, dark shirt, and tight waistcoat, with a vivid pink, silk backing. Everything that was bad about the first outfits is made good now.


Ask me what they played for the next 90 minutes (yes, much longer than first set), and I couldn't tell you. I can tell you that Jon and Russell where a whirlwind on stage. Russell all thrashing arms and buzzing hair, Jon dropping to his knees every 5 seconds, yelling, prowling the stage like a tiger on the loose. Maybe he is: no longer restrained by Orange he's exploding with rock! Judah is so cool. Have a glace at him, ignore Jon for a bit, and you'll see he's playing his guitar, taking it all in and loving it. It's amazing, fantastic... it's champion. At the end of the set, Jon begins to worry his Theremin, and scream over and over and over from the depths of his soul.


What a brilliant way to end a brilliant night. So... what are my thoughts about the 'Don't look Back' gigs? In the end, it didn't deliver for me. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but a band never plays an album in order as a live set when the album is contemporary. Saying that I do like the idea, but something wasn't right. Maybe it's because I'm not nostalgic about any of this. Come back in another 15 years, maybe I'll be in the right frame of mind then.


Words: Chris Gibson.