Mudhoney, Astoria, London

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The Independent Culture

The new text-message screen that relays the musings of fans at the Astoria showed one pertinent posting: "Aren't you all too young to be at a Mudhoney gig?"

The new text-message screen that relays the musings of fans at the Astoria showed one pertinent posting: "Aren't you all too young to be at a Mudhoney gig?" The point was well made: the age range dipped surprisingly low, including many teenagers who surely could not remember back to when grunge died with Kurt Cobain, and after which Mudhoney's work rate slowed almost to a standstill. It was only in late 2002 that the Seattle four-piece made a comeback, on Sub Pop, the grunge label, with the album Since We've Become Translucent.

The reason Mudhoney never made it as big as their erstwhile junior label-mates Nirvana is also the reason they're still around: they never took it all as seriously. Whereas Cobain's passionate engagement with his music drove him to break bones live on stage, at the Astoria the expression on the face of Mark Arm, the Mudhoney front man, is bemusement: "What? You're going berserk for little old us?"

Mudhoney have changed direction: the songs on Translucent are more considered, with more varied instrumentation, than before - even including horns. But the line-up at the Astoria - guitars; bass; drums - lent itself better to the more frenzied, less subtle early compositions, and the band weighted the set in that direction. Unforgettable grunge anthems such as "Touch Me I'm Sick" sounded as fresh as when they slammed into the turgid rock scene 16 years ago.

Though capable of sophistication, Mudhoney love to rock out with the dumbest. The power of the music is derived mainly from blunt, heavy riffs and Arm's sparingly used yells and screams: he is a first-rank vocalist and lyricist, with a judicious sense of how to use the F-word.

The effect the songs had on the audience - lunacy - was at odds with the laid-back demeanour of the four approaching-middle-age musicians, who looked like they could have walked straight out of an IT company. The lead guitarist, Steve Turner, was even taking gulps of something that looked suspiciously like milk.

Newer material worked well with the punky sound, which put a revealing slant on notionally calmer songs. But what was most notable was how many classic songs Mudhoney have. Almost every number induced a surge of hyperactivity in the audience, and any sense that they had peaked prematurely by thrashing through "Touch Me I'm Sick" early in the set was dispelled by the later renditions of "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More", "You Got It", "Here Comes Sickness" and, in a surprise, mid-encore outing, "Mudride", in which Arm unleashed squalls and squeals of feedback that evoked the way grunge relished noise for noise's sake.

It was a treat to witness the reanimation of grunge by the men who - before Nevermind brought it to the weaker palate - started the whole thing off.

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