Saturday, October 23, 2010

Solidly Enjoyable Solo Set Cut From a Familiar Mould -- Concert Review: Bob Mould at Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago

Photo Credit: Noah Kalina
Concert Review

Bob Mould (solo)
w/ Tim Eriksen
Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL
October 22, 2010
(also performing 10/23 at The Montrose Room in Rosemont, IL)

As I wasn't musically hip enough in my teenage years to know Hüsker Dü during their 1980's existence, it wasn't until his next power trio--Sugar--that became aware and an avid fan of Bob Mould.

That was about 1993, and since then I have acquired almost everything he's recorded--with his bands and as a solo artist, which he has primarily been since 1996 and even between his days with Hüsker Dü and Sugar--and have seen him live, including last night, 6 times.

But I guess I haven't been following him too closely lately, as I never knew he released an album in 2009 called Life and Times, wasn't aware that he was largely on a musical hiatus while penning a forthcoming autobiography and was oblivious that he had two Chicago area dates booked this weekend.

So the surprise was manifold when my friend Amy called late yesterday afternoon and said she had just bought a newly-released pair of tickets to last night's show at the Old Town School of Folk Music as a belated birthday present, especially as I already had a ticket to a theatrical performance. But liking Amy, and Bob, as I do, I was fortunately able to switch my other ticket to this evening, and headed down to Lincoln Avenue.

Although Old Town hosts several full-band concerts--including a fully charged Graham Parker show Amy and I attended in April--I wasn't too surprised to find that Mould was performing solo, as Bob and band on full-tilt would likely make the stately venue crumble, which would be a particular shame as my sister Elyse was one of the structural engineers.

A folk singer with punk rock origins named Tim Eriksen delivered a decent solo opening set, although seemed to spend as much time introducing his songs as singing them. I had never heard of him, and would presume much of the crowd hadn't either, so his saying, "This is one you should know," about one of his own songs seemed strange, but his half-hour on stage was suitably pleasant.

In the midst of a brief jaunt through the Midwest, which includes a show tonight in Rosemont, Mould served as his own roadie before coming out for what would be a very enjoyable 90-minute set.

Especially with a full-band and when a bit younger--although I didn't know it until checking his Wikipedia bio just now, Bob celebrated his 50th birthday last Saturday, a day after I turned 42--Mould is one of the most intense live performers I have ever seen. And though there was plenty of intensity in his solo performance of songs of insight, introspection and, not so occasionally, rage, last night he appeared a bit more relaxed and affable, especially in talking about working on his book.

It was great to hear one of the best songwriters of the past 30 years mix some great solo work (Wishing Well, See A Little Light, Paralyzed) with classics by Hüsker Dü (Hardly Getting Over It, I Apologize, Makes No Sense At All) and Sugar (Your Favorite Thing, Hoover Dam, If I Can't Change Your Mind).

Accompanying himself with only an electrified acoustic guitar and later an electric one, Mould clearly showed the depth and quality of his writing across various incarnations. Still, his earlier band and solo work feels better and more unique to me than a lot of his later output and especially devoid of drums, bass, etc., a bit too much of Mould's set sounded a bit too similar, both within itself and compared to past solo shows of his I've seen.

As such the performance felt entirely enjoyable--and I'm very grateful Amy surprised me with the tickets--but didn't quite reach spectacular. Truth is, Mould--at least to me--is far more superlative, and almost singularly extraordinary, when performing a blistering, non-stop set with a band. I certainly understand that he may be getting too old to do that every time out and to his credit his solo gigs continue to draw well, especially in Chicago, which he called "the best city in his professional life."

Especially after his autobiography is published next year, which sounds like a 500-page tome of harsh, self-reflective candor, the (perhaps too) obvious suggestion would be to Dü a Hüsker reunion, assuming his old bandmates are healthy and game. After all, even if one can continue to provide pleasing solo performances to appreciative audiences, the last thing any artist--let alone such a groundbreaking one--should want is to get stuck in a Mould.

Bob Mould Setlist from October 22, 2010 at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music: 

1. Wishing Well
2. Hear Me Calling
3. Hoover Dam
4. See a Little Light
5. No Reservations
6. Hardly Getting Over It
7. Thumbtack
8. Sinners and Their Repentances
9. I'm Sorry Baby, But You Can't Stand in my Light Anymore
10. Life and Times
11. The Breach
12. Paralyzed
13. Again and Again
14. Circles
15. Your Favorite Thing
16. I Apologize
17. Could You Be The One
18. Celebrated Summertime
19. If I Can't Change Your Mind
20. Makes No Sense At All 

Here's a YouTube video of Mould in Rome last December, performing the two songs he closed with last night:

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