Review: Mudhoney at the Bluebird Theater, 1/6/12

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Though the mood hanging from the heads of the Bluebird Theater crowd last night was a heavy one, it was also bittersweet -- Mudhoney, the Fluid and the bands' mutual fans were gathered together to remember their friend, Fluid guitarist Ricky Kulwicki, who died in February 2011. A benefit concert for Kulwicki's teenage sons (whose band, Purple Fluid, opened the show), the Bluebird was bursting with handshakes and hugs and stories shared between old friends. Mudhoney tore through the venue with a screaming and calculated precision, and at only six days into 2012, set the bar as one of the best shows of the year.

Purple Fluid opened to a half-full venue of mostly parent and teenager pairs, camera flashes flooding the scene as the crowd slowly trickled in. The teenage punks held their own, engaging the audience with plenty of rock posing and stage banter. Covers of The Ramones' "Commando" and Tubronegro's "All My Friends Are Dead" rolled the half-hour set along nicely, igniting the show with a nervous energy.

Not long after the Purple Fluid was finished, the Fluid appeared, the pit now teeming with long hairs, flannels and leather jackets, beer-clenching fists high in the air. Lead singer John Robinson sauntered on stage with an open bottle of wine, throwing the band into it's set with arms open wide. He pushed at the crowd with a zealous yell, smiles and screams pushing back as the venue sang with him.

Taking a moment to thank the community that had gathered for Kulwicki and his family, Robinson expressed gratitude for the compassion around their friend's passing, noting that Mudhoney had driven in from Seattle that day to play the tribute show. The memories and experiences shared between fans crowded next to each other at the bar, in line for the bathroom and lining the foot of the stage were all embodied in the Fluid's passionate and fiery precursor to the night's main event.

With a solemn pomp of an entrance, Mudhoney walked out from the Bluebird's modest backstage curtains and immediately set its hour and a half long explosion in motion with "Poisoned Water." Lead singer and guitarist Mark Arm's presence immediately juxtaposed itself, as the lanky and unassuming figure went from shy to maniacal whenever his mouth magnetized with the microphone.

Balanced out by guitarist Steve Turner's jagged movements to one side and bassist Guy Maddison's soft sways on the other, Arm's unmatched energy continued to burst forth and retreat through songs like "Get Into Yours," "Inside Job" and "F.D.K." Just a handful of songs down, and the crowd was in a full-on frenzy, the stage acting as only a minimal barrier between performer and onlooker -- a few hands even managing to hoist bodies into the air before security deftly pulled the feet and heads of crowd surfers down.

Mudhoney's onslaught of fuzzed-out sludge marched on, Arm's virtually black eyes darting upward from behind his pronounced nose and glittering Gretsch. "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More" and the omnipotent "Touch Me I'm Sick" felt like reverberating reminders that the band's crafted intelligence had far surpassed any false notions of grunge as an actual phenomenon.

More photos: Mudhoney with Fluid at the Bluebird

Soon, Arm removed his guitar and mike stand to make room for his signature predatory, body-half-folded-over stance, "The Open Mind" and "Next Time" spitting from his wide grin between jerks and flails. A false start to "Chardonnay" provided a minor comedic interlude, but the band forced itself right back into the sonic assault, Arm's loose cannon style permeating every corner of the venue. Finishing the beautifully drawn out bleed of "Tales Of Terror," Arm turned to the side and squeezed out one last ceremonial hip shake before Mudhoney exited the stage.

A few moments later, the four-piece was back for an encore with another mini-set up its sleeve. "If I Think" and "Here Comes Sickness" reinvigorated Arm's fantastically creepy stage persona, the crowd at his feet now swirling in a full-on aggressive state. Arm then smartly announced that Mudhoney's legendary cover of a "traditional song from Texas" -- The Dicks' "Hate The Police" -- was in homage to the band's appreciation for roots music. To end it all, the band came at the crowd with Black Flag's "Fix Me," and the blitzkrieg was over.


Personal Bias: Up until this point, I had somehow managed to miss seeing Mudhoney and The Fluid in my concert-going lifetime.

Random Detail: I saw a dude wandering the venue in a 15th Street Tavern shirt -- a pleasant but sad reminder of yet another place in Denver's small cultural history that has been demolished and redeveloped in the last decade.

By the Way: I didn't learn this until I was home after the show and perusing Facebook, but during Mudhoney's infamous Dicks cover, Jello Biafra was one of the gentlemen who joined the band on stage to sing the evening out.

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