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Friday, September 7
Better than: Having to send a search party for the silver lining.
“You’ve really done a lot with the place,” joked guitarist-songwriter Bob Mould to the crowd as he took a well-deserved breather in Williamsburg Park on Friday. He’d commandeered his newest power trio through half of a 90-minute concert before addressing the audience, and since the band had just put blisters on Copper Blue—the 1992 debut/breakthrough/career milestone from Mould’s second great band, Sugar—it seemed like a good time to remind folks that he’d been a neighborhood resident during that record’s formative stages. “Most of those songs were actually written right over there on Richardson,” he said, pointing inland from the makeshift outdoor space on the waterfront.
As might be expected of an alumnus of a band that once called a 26-minute album with 17 tracks Land Speed Record, Mould has covered lots of ground in the past 30 years. That LP was the work of Hüsker Dü, his first landmark group, a powerhouse unit that birthed a loud, ferocious brand of proto-grunge that never skimped on songcraft. Since then Mould’s career has been one of almost continuous forward motion and not a little shape-shifting—just one reason he chose to promote Silver Age, his new solo album, by front-loading his concerts with performances of Copper Blue in its entirety. Mould disbanded Sugar in 1996 and publicly swore off the hard-driving riffage that had become his signature shortly thereafter, opting instead for experiments with techno and a popular sideline as a DJ for the community of bearded, burly gays like himself (affectionately known as “bears”). While the self-imposed moratorium on shredding ended a few years ago, Silver Age‘s potency represents a renewed kinship with Sugar. Mould may be a 50-ish graybeard, but it’s telling that when he sings the album’s title track the words could be mistaken for “silver rage.”
The entire evening came down heavily on the retrospective side. I wish I’d timed Copper Blue; the speed and sinuousness of the thrashing between Mould and his rhythm section (Verbow bassist Jason Narducy; Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster) was deceptive. Though most pieces were taken at a considerably faster clips than on record, the performance wasn’t a trip back to the hardcore brevity of Hüsker Dü. Mould and Narducy clearly relished singing (read: wailing) as much as they did digging into the hooks of “Changes”, “Hoover Dam” and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”, so the running time of the whole seemed to exceed the album’s 45 minutes. “The Slim” and “Slick” were the rare midtempo jaunts, while the solo break on “Man On The Moon” sent Mould’s guitar keening into its stratospheric registers.
Signs that Mould’s new age is indeed a way to reconnect with the spirit of his earlier triumphs arrived in the second half. After three songs from the new disc, he signaled the Hüskers part of the show with a gorgeous rendition of the loss-tinged ballad “Hardly Getting Over It” from 1986’s Candy Apple Grey. What struck me about the memories that came next—from the jams off Warehouse: Songs And Stories and New Day Rising (“Could You Be The One?” and “I Apologize”, respectively) to the two from Zen Arcade (“Chartered Trips” and the encore “Something I Learned Today,” sung with the Hold Steady’s excitable Craig Finn)—was that there wasn’t a discernible difference in the number of revelers of various ages singing along. And so much yelling and fist-pumping ensued during the closer, Flip Your Wig‘s “Makes No Sense At All,” that the song’s catalog of grievances seemed to take on anthemic proportions. It was a rousing cap to a big night of homecomings.
Critical bias: My inner jazz guy has no beef with career summations.
Random notebook dump: At Mouldian decibel levels, it’s a relief when the sound mix is actually lunch for your ears.
The Way We Act
A Good Idea
If I Can’t Change Your Mind
Man On The Moon
Round the City Square
Hardly Getting Over It
Could You Be The One
Something I Learned Today (feat. Craig Finn)
In A Free Land
Makes No Sense At All