Mudhoney and Glenn Branca Unleash Their Controlled Chaos

You’ll have another chance to catch Mark Arm and company. Don’t miss it.

At the risk of making an embarrassingly obvious statement, Mudhoney is a truly great Seattle rock band. It's been several years since I've seen Mark Arm and company bring their brand of sickness to the stage, so perhaps I was so blown away during Sub Pop's semi-secret showcase at the Sunset last Wednesday simply because I needed to be reminded. I don't think my lack of exposure was the only factor at play, however, because they indisputably sounded like a veteran band freshly recharged. Because he is entirely unencumbered by guitar-wielding duties on their new record, The Lucky Ones, Mr. Arm spent most of their early-evening set commanding the stage with a free-spirited, wild-eyed, and disarmingly intense presence. Honestly, I wasn't terribly psyched about the lineup for the Sub Pop 20th Anniversary festival this coming July 12–13, but now I'd go just to see them. On a related note, it's safe to say that the Sunset is quietly becoming the go-to venue for unannounced "secret" shows (though I'd be willing to bet that Slim's Last Chance in Georgetown could soon give them a run for their money, with their old-school industry connections and beloved former Crocodile soundman Jim Anderson on the boards). Last Sunday, the Ballard club snuck former Pedro the Lion leader Dave Bazan into the Sunday Bloody Sunset matinee lineup (Bazan had to play unbilled in accordance with his Sasquatch contractual obligations), and there are some pretty high-profile surprises in store this summer. My lips are sealed for now, but fans who dig the thrill and intimacy of seeing big acts play smaller shows should keep their eyes on the Sunset's calendar and bone up on their ability to decipher clever pseudonyms. The idyllic weather this weekend couldn't have been more perfectly timed for the Seattle Art Museum's 75th birthday, which was celebrated with a surreal, beautiful, and seamlessly executed party in the picturesque setting of SAM's Olympic Sculpture Park downtown. Fearlessly freaky Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne would have felt right at home: As part of Lucia Neare's Cake Walk, half-a-dozen elaborately outfitted performers twirled around the grounds with tiers of lavish pink "cakes" on their heads, mischievous-looking pastry chefs played spontaneous bouts of croquet using giant gold balls, and a swarm of miniature robots danced in circles by the front entrance. Even if the Alice-in-Wonderland vibe wasn't so fully in effect, things would have felt delightfully lysergic because of the stunning performance of Glenn Branca's Symphony No. 13, Hallucination City. Fifty guitar and bass players filled the stage with the cyclonic, impressively coordinated chaos that makes Branca's avant-garde compositions so hypnotically beautiful. Branca is frequently cited by critics and the band themselves as a primary influence on Sonic Youth, and it was easy to hear why, especially when considering the imposing swell and agitated energy of early SY masterpieces like Confusion Is Sex or EVOL. Thanks to the (justifiably) steep ticket prices ($175), there was an appreciative line of local musicians lining the outside fence above the stage to catch the wave of sound as it wove through the one-hour piece's many movements. The musicians onstage included quite a few out-of-town performers who had played in previous Branca-orchestrated performances (most notably esteemed Michigan-based composer and percussionist Virgil Moorefield, who anchored the madness masterfully from behind his drum kit), but there were plenty of locals in the mix, including guitarist Mike Katell (formerly of Faster Tiger, Ruston Mire, and Mala Vista). Katell had such a exhilarating experience that he plans on doing it again as soon as he can. "I'm likely going to do it wherever it plays next....St. Louis in November, I'm told....I am totally hooked," he enthuses. "It's hard for rock-'n'-roll players to find a role in 'serious music,' and Branca has consistently blurred the line between these genres with tremendous success." Katell, whose interests in music have shifted from traditional rock to creative composition in the last several years, says that his trip to Hallucination City was in equal parts challenging, inspiring, and just plain fun. "I've never played as part of an orchestra before...The experience is completely different from playing in a rock band—except for that incredible feeling that comes when the orchestra (or band) really locks in and you get that fleeting but sweet sense of being part of something larger than yourself—something good." And the best part? "No one asked me to turn it down!"

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