I’ve seen Bob Mould perform many times over the past 20 years and I can honestly say I have never seen him smile. Not before, during or after a show. Not once. Never. I did however, witness some trademark Mould wit after a Philly gig at the Northstar Bar last year. He asked the crowd to buy some CDs at the merch table so he could have some gas money for the trip back to DC. The half-joking plea came without a smile.
This lack of mirth is why I’ve always considered him one intense fellow. Intimidating is a better word. Listen to anything from his extensive catalog and there aren’t too many care-free gems. Bob Mould is a singer/songwriter/performer who mainly deals with the crushing pain and lingering ghosts of past relationships (and thankfully at times, he does offer a glimmer of hope and peace). His songs are presented – both recorded and live – with pure, raw emotion. Witnessing the vein-popping wincing and cathartic howls during this brilliant live performance (filmed at the legendary 9:30 Club in his hometown Washing DC) will put serious shivers down your spine.
About half-way through this DVD, Bob did something unexpected. He cracked a little smile after playing (probably his most popular solo song) “See a Little Light.” It did my heart good. While I don’t know this man personally, I was thrilled to see him happy and enjoying himself. I’m not a guy who has idols or heroes, though I admire many people in the music biz. Bob Mould is as close as it gets for me in the realm of “heroes.” So if this review sounds a bit fan-boyish, please forgive me.
The last few years I’ve only seen Bob play solo with just his acoustic. While the shows were more than satisfying, I dearly missed the giant waves of distortion, the frenzied electric noodling (he’s a very under-rated guitarist) and melodic backing vocals that contrast Bob’s Townshend-esque delivery and punctuating growls. For this tour (from Fall 2005), Bob put together an extremely tight and kick-ass group of friends/musicians. Jason Narducy had all the spirit and licks of Husker bassist Greg Norton and his additional vocals were subtly and perfectly injected, especially on favorites like “Changes” and “Hoover Dam” where his and keyboardist Richard Morel’s vocals added a completely new dimension to the songs.
Morel’s restrained keyboards and calming demeanor anchored down the band nicely. When I discovered Brendan Canty of Fugazi/Rites of Spring fame, was manning the kit, I was ecstatic. Canty is a punk rock legend and true technician with quiet flare. While not as booming as the thunderous Sugar drummer Malcolm Travis, Canty was on fire and very cheerful, which added great vibe to the show.
The band ripped through the first nine songs (lots of Sugar and solo classics) at a brisk pace and slowed it down with the euphonic “High Fidelity.” When I heard the opening chords to the next song, it got a bit emotional for this lad. I first heard Husker Du’s “Hardly Getting Over It” back when I was 16, I was floored at the time to hear something so quietly effecting amidst the maelstrom of beautiful punk distortion. The song is a simple rumination on loss and death. The two lines that stuck out right away were:
“My parents, they just wonder when they both are going to die / And what am I to do when they die?”
At that young age I wondered, “Yeah, what the hell would I do if my parents died?” Obviously Bob thought about it a lot.
My parents our now deceased; my dad ten years ago, my mother just recently and unexpectedly. Despite loving this song, I now fear it. It completes wrecks me, but I have to listen. By the end, it oddly brings me comfort because it makes think of my mom and dad at a happy time when they were both with me.
Mould slowed down this version even more than the original and it was a thing of beauty. Thank god, he quickly followed it up with another all-time favorite, “Could You Be The One?” (as close as the Huskers got to a pop rock hit), because I was a complete puddle. To keep the Husker Du goodness going, Bob sped through a down and dirty version of “I Apologize” from “New Day Rising.” “I’m Sorry” songs do not get much better than this.
In you haven’t noticed by this point in the review, I simply loved this performance. Loved every single note of it. I was entranced not only by the band’s note-perfect renditions, but also the stellar production. It was top-notch with crystal clear audio and video, at least 4 cameras covered the action. I haven’t watched many live concerts in a long time, so maybe there all this good?I know the latest Bad Religion at The Palladium DVD was aces.
The fun continued for Husker Du fans with the unexpected “Chartered Trips!” I never saw Husker Du perform anything from the epic Zen Arcade, but this insanely rocking performance was as close to the swirling chaos and explosive energy that permeated the classic record. Zen Arcade continues to astound me every time I listen to the double-CD. Many in the know will tell you this is a landmark album in indie music. So please check it out.
With the exception of a few tracks from his latest solo CD “Body of Song,” the set list was basically a greatest hits of Mould’s, including “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,’ “Helpless,” “Man on The Moon” and other beauties.
Middle age fits him well. Mould looks and sounds great and he seems to be at peace. While the rage that fueled many of his earlier songs is still present, he now seems to be enjoying himself as he performs. It doesn’t seem like a chore he must rush through. Right before he rips into the penultimate song of the night, “Makes No Sense at All,” he laughs quite a bit as he exchanges glances with his band mates. Laughing? Wow, even better than a smile.
Buy the DVD: Circle of Friends