Monday, January 14, 2013

It's Nice To See Grant Hart 'Back from Somewhere' -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Grant Hart
w/ opening acts Jeremiah Webb and Ripley Caine
Red Line Tap, Chicago
January 12, 2013

I was born in 1968, so I didn't start paying much attention to music of my own accord until the late '70s, at which point John Lennon was pretty much laying low and Paul McCartney (with Wings) was releasing hit songs like "Silly Love Songs," "With a Little Luck" and "Goodnight Tonight."

So while I was already well-indoctrinated to the brilliance of the Beatles--though probably not yet spinning "Revolution 9" backwards at my friend Jordan's house--I have to admit that at the time Lennon was slain in December 1980 (shortly after releasing Double Fantasy), my wrongful perception was that McCartney had been  "the main Beatle."

Similarly, having not been aware of Hüsker Dü during their existence--sorry, but I was listening to the Scorpions, Ratt and Dokken in the mid-'80s (along with, more proudly, Springsteen, Zeppelin and the Kinks)--I think I first paid attention to their legacy after getting hooked on Bob Mould's great 1992 album with Sugar, Copper Blue, which I initially heard sometime in 1993.

In subsequently getting all of Hüsker Dü's highly acclaimed albums from the '80s, I expected to be wowed by much more of Mould's material. And I was. But I soon discovered that only half the songs were written and sung by him; the other half--with plenty of songs I liked just as much as Mould's--were composed and sung by Grant Hart, the band's drummer.

Though I have now noted that Hart went on to lead a band called Nova Mob and has released some solo albums, I have never heard any of his music outside of Husker Du and never noted any live appearances by him. Whereas I have seen Mould six times and have virtually all the music he's released.

So my eyes perked up when I saw a friend mention on Facebook that Grant Hart would be performing in Chicago on Saturday night. Especially in discovering that the venue--the Red Line Tap--was only about 20 minutes from home and tickets were just $10, I eagerly opted to check him out.

Based on the listing on the venue's website, I didn't know if Hart would be performing with a band or solo. I also expected him to look something like he does in the photo.

Turns out, he played alone with just an electric guitar--following enjoyable solo acoustic sets by Jeremiah Webb and Ripley Caine--and except for his singing voice, was largely unrecognizable compared to any old images I had seen.

Far be it from me to criticize anyone's appearance or fashion choices, but it looks like Hart might be borrowing Anthony Kiedis' stylist of late, albeit with more of a John Waters mustache.

But even if he didn't instantly look like a guy who helped to change the face of indie and alternative rock, over an 85-minute, 23-song performance Hart played enough Hüsker Dü chestnuts--plus some enjoyable other material--to provide an adequate reminder of his legacy.

While even Mould probably couldn't be considered a household name these days--if ever--he seemingly can sell out a show or two at the 1,150 capacity Metro anytime he comes to Chicago.

So to see his old bandmate--the McCartney to his Lennon, or vice-versa--performing in front of about 50 people for $10 a head was both a bit sad and stirring at the same time.  

Though there was nothing to suggest a lack of professionalism, the show felt less like a concert than just a guy playing some songs in a small room.

Hart opened with a song called "You're the Reflection of the Moon on the Water," which I didn't know, but a few songs in he pulled out the first Hüsker Dü song of the night (at least as far as I recognized, though merely by the lyrics), "The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill."

Occasionally Hart would ask the crowd if they had requests, which would bring a torrent of people shouting Hüsker Dü song titles. He played a few, and declined to do others (such as "Books About UFOs"). Other than "The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill," the Husker songs that I could identify were "She Floated Away," "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely," "Green Eyes," "It's Not Funny Anymore," and the show closing "Never Talking to You Again."

But much else of what he played sounded solid as well, including songs such as "Admiral of the Sea," "California Zephyr," "Barbara," "Little Miss Information" and "My Regrets." Three of these--plus his opening song--came from 2009's Hot Wax album, which notes came after "years of addiction," but which served as an "overdue reminder that there were two excellent songwriters in Hüsker Dü."

So hopefully, Grant Hart is still getting back to where he once belonged, and it was heartening to know that, even at a rather rudimentary level, he remains active.

If you didn't arrive at the Red Line Tap with an appreciation of who Grant Hart was, you might not have been wowed; not only were his solo versions devoid of Husker Du's manic energy, but--though his voice was largely in good stead--some of his vocal phrasings recircuited the originals.

But I imagine that most people there were well aware of Grant Hart's history--and his place in rock 'n roll's--likely even more fervently than I. So while I can't proclaim it a truly outstanding rock concert--though for just $10 it was well worthwhile even at face value--in ways that went beyond the performance itself, it was rather robustly satisfying. Or I guess you could say, Grant's re-emergence was good for the Hart. And soul.

A brief snippet of Grant Hart performing Green Eyes, shot by me:  
A Spotify playlist of Husker Du songs by Grant Hart, as well as a few of his solo songs:

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