Bruce Pavitt Talks Mudhoney’s new DVD Live, Berlin 1988

In October of 1988, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Seattle's Mudhoney and Jon Poneman and I of Sub Pop Records were invited to a...

In October of 1988, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Seattle’s Mudhoney and Jon Poneman and I of Sub Pop Records were invited to a state-sponsored music festival in West Berlin called Berlin Independence Days.  This was the first European appearance by any band on our brand new label. And this was the show that convinced European club owners and booking agents to bring them back, many times, initiating relentless touring which would help generate a deeper European interest in Northwest bands like Nirvana, Tad and Soundgarden, helping to fuel grunge’s eventual march to “world domination.”

Speaking as Mudhoney’s first fan, I believe this early live recording of the band is an amazing treasure, and I’m thankful that K7 took the time to release this crucial footage. Mudhoney, Live: Berlin 1988 is the best live concert document I’ve seen from the late 80’s Seattle grunge scene. Its only problem: it wasn’t shot in Seattle.

Infamously, the audience was half of any Seattle show; they were notorious for not standing still. Common sights at a typical Mudhoney show included manic crowd surfing, stage diving and limp bodies being hauled out of clubs by emergency medical technicians. Despite Mudhoney’s intense performance here, the Berlin crowd is way too polite, saving their enthusiastic clapping and screaming for the very end of the performance. Which is a shame. Why wasn’t I raging it in front of the stage as usual? It’s a mystery. I’m shocked, devastated, humbled, perplexed and seriously ashamed to see that I was not gyrating in front of all the jaded industry scenesters.

That said, this DVD contains the best footage to surface from the late ’80s grunge era. Although it’s shot on video, with only one camera, the lighting is good and the visuals are fine, with the camera panning the stage and occasionally zooming in for close-ups. The sound is excellent, and, more importantly, the film catches the band at a creative peak.

Creative peak?! Mudhoney was only nine months old!  Unlike Nirvana, the band wrote most of their best material immediately upon their formation. (Mudhoney’s first show at Seattle’s Vogue in April of ’88 was out-of-the-box devastating. Instant band. Great songs.)

This Berlin show happens to be one of their best. It’s an I-wish-I-was-there spectacle, showcasing the shaggy pageantry and punk rock genius of four guys from Seattle who like to drink beer, but just happen to do it better than anyone in Europe — which is really saying something.  Paradoxically, the band is both brilliant and dumb, dorky and hot, angry and funny, completely loose but perfectly orchestrated. They totally rock.

1988’s greatest-live-band-in-the-world is propelled by one of Seattle’s best drummers, Dan Peters. His fluid, rolling snare attacks set the tension throughout the show. Matt Lukin, hair waving, thunders away on bass, providing a strong foundation. Steve Turner, hair waving, plays distorted rhythm guitar and backup vocals, allowing the growling Mr. Mark Arm to punctuate the Stooges-influenced set with sporadic slide guitar. Arm displays the greatest snarl since Iggy, and it completely outweighs his inability to consistently hit his notes.

The songs here are awesome, with vintage Superfuzz (Arm) and Big Muff (Turner) pedals in full effect, adding dynamic layers of swirling grit. They play all of the tracks from their just-released Superfuzz Bigmuff EP, as well as the two epochal songs on their first single: “Touch Me I’m Sick” and “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More.” “Here Comes Sickness,” which had yet to be released, rages as well, and rounds out the set.

A year after this liberating performance, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, ushering in a new era of freedom for the oppressed people of East Berlin.  A coincidence?  I think not.  Truly, this DVD is epic in its historical significance, and should be shared in classrooms from Berlin to Seattle.  Seriously.  This thing is priceless.


Bruce Pavitt is the founder of Seattle’s Sub Pop record label and the author of the interactive photo journal Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989 (available through iTunes). You can follow him on Twitter here.