I have no idea how this singer’s vocal cords have survived decades in overdrive

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This wrap of shows around Melbourne includes the seventh gig in an 11-consecutive-night run by Mudhoney, and a play that shines a light on those forced to flee their homelands as refugees.

Mudhoney ★★★★

Northcote Social Club, April 26

After being away for nine years, Mudhoney have marked their return to Australia with an ambitious and packed schedule of performances, playing 11 consecutive nights on a tour that has expanded to 17 dates around the country.

Mudhoney perform at Northcote Social Club, 26 April, 2023.Credit: Rick Clifford

Seven sold-out shows in Victoria alone, where the band first played in 1990, made these masters of Seattle super fuzz one of the hottest tickets in town. For grunge music fans, it’s been a week to proudly pull out their flannelette shirts and crank up precious old vinyl albums.

Thirty-five years after emerging from the ashes of mid-1980s band Green River (also from Seattle), Mudhoney this month released their 11th studio album, Plastic Eternity. The band’s debut EP Superfuzz Bigmuff was released a year before their debut album, in 1988.

Here Comes the Flood and Almost Everything off the new album slotted in sweetly among earlier songs, including Let It Slide and The Farther I Go, the latter opening the show to howls of delight from a tightly packed crowd.

Lead vocalist Mark Arm’s own distinctive howls quickly ramped up the energy levels, while guitarist Steve Turner hooked into the fuzzy intro of Touch Me I’m Sick like it was the golden era of grunge all over again.

Exactly how Mark Arm’s vocal cords have survived decades of operating in overdrive is anybody’s guess.Credit: Rick Clifford

Exactly how Arm’s vocal cords have survived decades of operating in overdrive is anybody’s guess, but he’s revelling in the band’s new material, including the Iggy Pop-esque new tune Little Dogs.

Arm has a hypnotising presence on stage, despite saying very little between songs. And with drummer Dan Peters and Melbourne-based Guy Maddison on bass guitar, there’s little room for banter anyway. It’s a pedal-to-the-metal trip down memory lane, with detours to new tracks, including Move Under and Souvenir Of My Trip.

Support band Seminal Rats were one of several local bands Mudhoney requested for this tour.

Fronted by vocalist Michael Harley, the veteran Melbourne rockers first played in 1984, but wound the clock back with a nostalgic, at times wonky, set including Truth Never Lies and Rat Race from their 1986 album, Omnipotent.
Reviewed by Martin Boulton

Mudhoney headline Cherry Rock 2023, Little Collins Street, Melbourne, on Sunday, April 30.

Selling Kabul ★★★
by Sylvia Khoury, Red Stitch, until May 21

Sylvia Khoury’s Selling Kabul takes place in 2013, but it depicts so urgently the perils faced by Afghans who assisted occupying forces during the 2001-2021 war, you may initially think it was set on the eve of the chaotic withdrawal of US-led troops from Kabul in 2021.

Farhad Zaiwala, Khisraw Jones-Shukoor, Claudia Greenstone in a scene from Selling Kabul.Credit: Jodie Hutchinson

Cooped up in the apartment of his sister Afiya (Nicole Nabout), Taroon (Khrisraw Jones-Shukoor) is in hiding from Taliban thugs. His life is in imminent danger. Having accompanied US troops as translator and guide, his name is on a hit list, and, without internet access, he can’t discover whether his promised US protection visa has been granted.

Taroon is desperate to escape his hiding-place for another reason. His wife has just given birth to their first child, and he plans to dress in a burqa (or chadaree) to visit them in hospital without being caught, before the three of them are spirited abroad to safety.

As they await the arrival of Afiya’s husband Jawid (Farhad Zaiwala) – whose business dealings with the Taliban buy him some tentative protection – chatterbox neighbour Leyla (Claudia Greenstone) appears… and is later drawn helplessly into lethal intrigue as tension escalates, violence erupts, and Taroon is forced to flee Afghanistan that very night.

Nicole Nabout and Claudia Greenstone star in the tense Selling Kabul.Credit: Jodie Hutchinson

Claustrophobic tedium and anxiety baseline a thriller-like plot which rises to an anguished pitch of heightened emotion. The characters face unenviable, life-or-death decisions, and there are often no good choices.

Nabout’s Afiya is a fiercely protective but self-abnegating presence: her entire being consumed to a fault by helping those she loves to survive. She is also educated – the best English-speaker in the family – though as she remarks bitterly, it doesn’t bring freedom, remaining little more than “party trick” for American soldiers.

Taroon, for his part, grows to question both his motives for, and the price of, helping the occupation, with Jones-Shukoor channelling an almost comically caged vitality as tragedy and horror accumulate. Opposite him, Zaiwala’s wonderfully modest, subtle, and introspective Jawid lends the interrogation of courage and cowardice a grave moral complexity.

Whether this is an accurate portrayal of life in occupied Kabul – and there are melodramatic flourishes (not to mention Australian accents) which strain to convey it realistically – seems less important than that the attempt to imagine it exists.

Aside from alleged war crimes committed by Australian troops, we get scant news about Afghanistan, and this play might inspire you to discover how dire the situation is for ordinary people under Taliban rule.

Afiya would not be educated in Kabul today. She would not be allowed to work. The UN estimates two thirds of the population requires humanitarian assistance, and it has threatened to pull out of the country next month if the Taliban edict banning aid organisations from employing local women isn’t lifted.

Are we complicit in all this? What can we do? At the very least, we have a responsibility not to look away, to insist that Australia meets its international obligations to those – like some of the characters in this play – forced to flee their homelands as refugees.
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead

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