RSD Spotlight: A View From the Top of the Needle with Mudhoney

Mudhoney, On Top: KEXP Presents Mudhoney Live on Top of the Space Needle

I’d been a photographer with KEXP for just under four years when 2013 culminated in a singular event: I was the sole photographer elected to capture Mudhoney performing live on top of the Space Needle as part of Sub Pop’s Silver Jubilee celebration on July 12.

As I walked up the heavy industrial staircase that day and exited atop the Needle’s circular platform, I couldn’t believe how breathtaking the view was. I set down my camera bag near the edge to keep it out of the way, grabbed my gear, and started shooting. A few moments later it hit me: Leaving my bag so close to the edge—with no barricade to hold it back—might flatten someone after plummeting 600 feet to the ground. I promptly moved it.

The band appeared a little shaken as it warmed up both its instruments—and its courage. Then again, so did everyone else present, an assorted crew of producers, sound engineers, and DJs. It wasn’t really the surroundings that had us all so jittery, but the anxiety of being involved in a once-in-a-lifetime event; none of us knew quite what to expect, but there was a lot of pressure to capture the moment perfectly. In fact, Charles Peterson, the iconic Pacific Northwest photographer, had made an appearance up top earlier in the day just to experience it, and shortly after appeared in a helicopter buzzing around us, grabbing aerial shots of the show.

The set sounded unexpectedly awesome considering the location. There were no real acoustics to speak of, and the sound just bounced off the center pylon and needle-like antenna, but that was enough. Perhaps for fear of accidentally bounding off the Needle, Mudhoney played with restraint, but still delivered with its trademark vitality. Its 30-minute set was over after what seemed like mere seconds, and I let out a deep breath.

Whether or not I’ll ever reach that cool status again, I can’t wait to hear this special release on vinyl and relive it all over again. This album is such a unique portrait of Seattle rock history, and I predict it’s going to fly off the shelves.

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