Bob Mould played a sold out show Thursday night at Metro, and as expected from a concert highlighting two albums released 20 years apart—one past, one present—it was a mix of head-trip nostalgia and sharper focus on the present.
Opening band All Eyes West did their gritty, no-frills punk thing, recalling the point in time when Fugazi and At The Drive-In were both releasing records. Seeing the trio on stage making the racket of their lives, it was hard not to think of Mould’s first marriage Hüsker Dü playing to dingy clubs to an audience who may have cared more about the beer line than the band. The bassist is the lead throat-shredder, but the animated guitarist was actually the group’s secret weapon. Sporting a black studded belt in his own nod to the night’s throwback feel (high school flashbacks, anyone?), he added curling countermelodies and brief flourishes to the band’s bare bones post-punk fury. Their stone-faced bashing got a bit monotonous near the end, but fans of Japandroids should keep an eye on these guys.
For the main act, the format was simple: play a recently reissued classic from your lesser known band (Sugar’s Copper Blue) in full next to most of your new album (the resoundingly solid Silver Age), with the usual added bonuses. Accompanied by Superchunk’s Jon Wurster on drums and longtime bassist Jason Narducy on bass, Mould appeared most excited to be there, bounding around the stage with the excitement of a newly recruited session musician. Copper Blue kickoff “The Act We Act” had the entire crowd nodding heads in unison for an intellectual mosh pit. “A Good Idea” tore the album version to shreds, “Hoover Dam” merged the wistful and powerful aspects of Mould’s music, and the uplifting “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” scored the biggest applause of the night. And the setlist standouts weren’t limited to the oldies; new rockers “Star Machine” and “The Descent” zoomed by like bottle rockets, as bristling and taut as their studio versions.
“It’s great to revisit the past a little bit,” Mould admitted after the last note of Copper closer “Man on the Moon.” “I’ve got a new record I’d like to play for you.” The Silver Age material made a good case for its placement alongside Copper warhorses, even if the audience seemed less engaged during the second half (to be fair, Copper had a 20-year head start). After a short “thank you,” he stood to take it all in before disappearing backstage. Two encores, two songs each, spoiled the audience with Hüsker Dü classics (“Something I Learned Today,” “Makes No Sense At All”) and a cover of Cheap Trick’s “Downed,” a hat tip to the Rockford act who made the Metro their home base for most of their career.
Nobody’s got a voice like Mould, and live, his distinctive vocals twist into an even more warped howl.
The mix blurred his lyrics into acidic vowels, and banter-wise, he’s a man of even fewer words. A half hour in, a sweat-drenched Mould was taking some deep breaths. He didn’t always complete every lyric, seeming to forget some while forgoing others to catch his breath for an instant. But in addition to giving Mould a safety net, Narducy’s backing vocals added sweetness to Mould’s tuff-guy delivery. Wurster looked like Dave Grohl’s little brother at the kit and sounded like he traded his sticks for sledgehammers, his drums rattling the walls on “Round the City Square.”
Slow ones like “Steam of Hercules” were rare in a set of “blistering rock ‘n’ roll” as Metro owner Joe Shanahan described Copper Blue in his introduction. Decades later, Mould still relishes the fast and abrasive, slashing through one quiet moment by literally tearing a riff out from his guitar.
Mould never dressed the part of a punk because he was always so much more. That’s why it’s surprising to see him limit himself to the double-feature format. He acknowledges his past but he’s not bound by it, and this is how you gracefully grow older. Whether the new album’s title is a wry commentary on Mould’s greying beard or a bitter laugh at being inevitably compared to previous successes, it’s clear either was applicable. The Copper Blue songs got bigger applause, if only because the audience skewed older. But pointedly, the stage backdrop wasn’t Copper Blue’s album art but Silver Age’s. Mould clearly had a blast, was the last man standing on stage as he played a droning chord with a sustained scream that nobody wanted to stop.