Tag Archives: U-Men

U-Men: Seattle’s Secret Art-Rock Influencers

U Men

Photo by Cam Garrett.

It’s 1985, and the members of Seattle’s U-Men are backstage, getting ready to play their biggest gig to date. The weirdo-punk quartet had spent the last four years slamming through every basement, social hall, dive bar, and art gallery that would book them. Now, they were preparing to play their hometown’s annual Bumbershoot Festival, and honest-to-god capital-e “Event” in the 16,000+ capacity Seattle Center, in front of parents, kids, and ‘normal folks.’ Needless to say, they were more than a little surprised to be there. “[It] was our first big show that was family-friendly,” remembers U-Men guitarist Tom Price.

It was a grand opportunity for the group, whose fan base up to that point consisted of a couple hundred punks—most of whom were at the Seattle Center with them for the 1985 show. U-Men were the kind of band that occasionally dressed in Speedos for their live gigs, had once broken a stage, and had, another time, set up a wrestling ring for an amateur match before their set.

As legend has it, the audience at Bumbershoot was only somewhat interested in the band—until the final song. The stage at the Seattle Center was surrounded by a moat; U-Men dumped lighter fluid into it and set it on fire. The flames shot 20 feet into the air.

“People went nuts,” Price says. “Parents in the back with the strollers were horrified. Security freaked out—which, of course, got the kids more freaked out. I’d never seen anything quite like it, as far as the instant transformation of a crowd. We thought, ‘We got to do something to fuck with people’s heads big time,’ and it kind of worked.”

Four years later, U-Men broke up to little fanfare. Three decades later, they still boast a hardcore fan base of locals and a handful of killer releases, which have now been re-released by one of their hometown’s biggest indie labels, Sub Pop. Many U-Men fans went on to form their own bands: Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam are just a few. And though these groups, and the general grunge explosion that came to define the city in the ’90s, didn’t sound at all like U-Men, they certainly learned from the group’s DIY ethos and middle finger-in-the-air attitude.

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