Nirvana, The Melvins, Dwarves, The Derelicts: Motorsports International Garage, Seattle

The American Uncivil War

CURRENT US foreign policy — late for the last two wars so let’s get in nice and early for the next one — finds a similarly well-informed echo here in the Sub Pop manifesto for world domination…late for punk but hell, we invented it in the first place. That gives us licence to tout hopeless identikit yob rock from now ’til the Gulf turns red.

Watching the Derelicts you realise how the Exploited were able to get full-blown American tours long after they couldn’t even play a gig over here: the Yank kids love this shit. Or rather, they’re well into the concept. This is a rare all ages (read no alcohol) show and the Derelicts’ distressingly proficient rendering of the UK Subs back catalogue is a pretty incidental factor in the bring-your-own-Altamont scenes behind the crush barrier at the front. Both riffs are present and correct, the lads seem well pissed off in that “did you nick my brain” sorta way, but this is one corpse that’s been shagged too often to provide even the most perverse satisfaction. Friends, you weren’t here at the time, you can’t know how bad it really was.

Pantomime punk comes to Seattle courtesy of the Dwarves, the rad dudes whose new album features two blood-drenched naked women on the sleeve and who are “the punkest band in Seattle” according to Mudhoney’s Mark Arm. They dress the way you’d expect — i.e., singer Blag Jesus sports see-through tights and axeman He Who Cannot Be Named, has a fishnet stocking over his head. Yeah, control yourselves. The most astounding thing about them is that people still get frothed up over such familiar “shock” tactics…there’s certainly nothing else shocking about this niftily hacked out speed brawl. But in the context of this show the Dwarves are revolutionary, employing the 15 Minutes And F**k You method of crowd control to amazing effect. The kids — they’ve just gotten into gobbing out here — respond and steal the show, peaking with a hurled contraband beer bottle that obliterates most of the bassman’s forehead. The remaining Dwarves seem somewhat miffed at this — can dish it out but can’t take it. Poofs.

After the cabaret comes the serious stuff. The Melvins are awesomely heavy, taking the game to the kids by getting progressively slower the longer they play. Never fear, the punters are up to the challenge and proudly unveil the recently patented Slow Motion Stagedive.

Cool though the Melvins may be, they can’t be held responsible for tempting 1300 restless Seattle youths to these lengths of insanity. No, blame Nirvana and their cunning way with words — “Whatever you do,” says bassman Chris Novoselic, towering above the hail of bodies, “don’t smoke!”

Aha! Suddenly the reason for the Seattle Temperance Society’s sponsorship of tonight’s gig becomes apparent — you don’t need any chemical substitutes for reality when Nirvana are machine-gunning your senses. The opening newie ‘Pay To Play’ is a driven, barely controlled scream and followed by the mighty sequence of ‘Blew’, ‘Been A Son’ and ‘Negative Creep’. Hell, this isn’t a fair fight — you can only melt into the adrenalin-soaked joy of it all.

The first gig with Danny Peters on drums and Nirvana are good in that rather alarming way of theirs, where it looks like it could all fall apart any second but never does. It’s this tension that sets them apart from all their contemporaries and means Nirvana connect on a far deeper level from Mudhoney — and certainly the one-dimensional ruckers that propped up their bill tonight.

As the stream of stage invaders becomes something of a waterfall, Kurdt Kobain becomes increasingly irritated, notably when one inadvertently drags him into the pit. It’s no surprise then, that proceedings close when this most unassuming of rock beasts trashes his amp stack and guitar. But this is not ritual — Chris and Danny are clearly caught out and play on until the chaos reaches some kind of resolution.

Nirvana are about to bring their no smokin’ revue to these shores and it’ll be a dose of the hard stuff. Remember kids, losing your mind takes a bit of brains.

© Keith CameronSounds, 13 October 1990

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