Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tour de Force of Nature: Bob Mould Makes the Most of His Time--and Mine--at Millennium Park -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Bob Mould (with band)
w/ opening act Split Single
Pritzker Pavilion
at Millennium Park, Chicago
June 23, 2014

To hear that Bob Mould was on stage for 80 minutes at Millennium Park Monday night might sound about right--especially as it was a free show that included a warm-up band and Pritzker Pavilion concerts invariably end before 9 PM--but perhaps not astonishing.

Yet here's the thing: somewhat akin to shopping in a country with a rather favorable exchange rate or weighing yourself on the moon, 80 minutes of Bob Mould in full-band mode is equivalent to at least two hours of almost anyone else.

To begin with, the man whose first recorded output was called Land Speed Record--with Husker Dü in early 1982--at 53 continues to play like an express train in top gear.

Mould's 80 minutes included 23 full songs (setlist here), most delivered without a pause between them. This has long been Mould's wont--though I regrettably never saw Husker Dü--possibly derived from a precedent set by the Ramones, and though he did offer gracious thanks, introduced his bandmates and said that he'd be playing "old songs, new songs and really new songs," I'd estimate about 79 of the 80 minutes were at full-tilt (besides the brief stage patter, there was a feedback-drenched half-minute between the main set and encore).

Usually when you hear the sound of a jackhammer, you expect it to stop. At least momentarily. With Bob Mould in full-band mode--accompanied here by bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster--it never does.

Reflecting the title of Mould's terrific new album, Beauty and Ruin, the effect is simultaneously brilliant and brutal. 

Funny thing is, though I was largely obvious to Husker Dü until well after the trio's glorious run ended in 1987, I caught onto Mould in his Sugar  days and--after seeing that trio in 1994--attended a Bob Mould + band gig on a 1998 tour dubbed "The Last Dog and Pony Show."

Just 37 at the time, Mould felt he was getting too old to continue delivering the blistering rage blowouts that had been his forte since his teens.

While he explored electronic music, wrote professional wrestling scripts and continued to perform solo acoustic and/or electric shows, by 2005 he reintroduced full-band, full-bore Bob.

And the world continues to be better off for it, so long as the fitter-than-ever Mould can handle the heat as he continues to bring it.

Opening with a trio of songs that began Sugar's wonderful 1992 Copper Blue album--"The Act We Act," "A Good Idea" and "Changes"--Mould, Narducy (who opened the show with his own band, Split Single) and Wurster (a wonderful drummer who was in Superchunk) were outstanding from the word go.

That the trio then blazed through 7 new songs--two from 2012's Silver Age and five from Beauty and Ruin--without a dip in power or quality is a testament to Mould's gifts and consistency as a songwriter.

These truths became even more self-evident as the rest of the show seamlessly mixed great songs from Sugar ("Helpless," "If I Can't Change Your Mind"), Husker Dü ("Hardly Getting Over It," "Chartered Trips," "Flip Your Wig" and the closing "Makes No Sense At All"), Mould's solo past ("Keep Believing," "Egøverride") and his present ("Tomorrow Morning," "Hey Mr. Grey").

Though Mould frequently covers the same sonic landscape, which he himself has acknowledged--at a stellar solo electric show in Schaumburg in January, after a blazing opening riff he wryly offered, "That could be any of about 14 songs"--it was with admiration that I turned to my friend Al (one of two at the show with me, along with those of other names) after "Tomorrow Morning" and said of the song off an album released just this month, "That could just as easily have been "Celebrated Summer"" (from Husker Dü 1985 New Day Rising).

While Mould and his band were terrific throughout, the combination of playing in sunlight to a seated crowd initially conspired to make me feel that the show didn't seem quite like the howler it would at a hot, dank and sweaty Metro or Riv. But not only was I a lot more comfortable, by the end of the 80 minutes, Mould had made Pritzker Pavilion feel like a packed club (he was sweating through his shirt even if I wasn't).

While Split Single's 45-minute opening set was enjoyable, it felt more solid than spectacular, causing me to wish they would cede the stage to the headliner a bit sooner. But again, Mould's blistering 80 minutes--even if 30 less than at his January solo gig--made me feel in no way cheated.

Split Single, the night's opening band, with Evanston's Jason Narducy on vocals
Even if I didn't pay a dime.

(Between the value of last Monday's superlative Richard Thompson gig and Mould, I feel like I owe Millennium Park about $100.)

Having noticed that most of the crowd, at least those devoted enough to arrive early for prime pavilion seats, were roughly in Mould's own demographic--or, like me, approaching it--I felt acute chagrin for younger rock fans who likely don't know or care about Bob Mould.

For I'm not sure how much longer he can play concerts that feel as if his face is on fire, and I really don't know if similar music--born from punk rock anarchy blended with melodic pop sensibilities and a bruising lyricism both incisive and insightful--will ever regenerate itself, let alone give rise to acts with a similar stage aesthetic.

So although, tritely stated, Bob Mould has been doing largely the same thing for 35 years--his solo gigs are only slightly less vehement, but to me, a tad less sublime for it--there really is no one who does the same thing any better.

He is a force of nature, and especially to his loyal and avid fan base, a national treasure.

And it doesn't get much better than hearing great music, for free, in a spectacular setting, on a beautiful night, in the company of good friends.

"Flip your wig," indeed.

Thanks to the City of Chicago and Millennium Park for two straight phenomenal concerts. Though I'm not as familiar with any other acts in this summer's Downtown Sound series, I'm inspired to come down for more shows. Perhaps on July 21 for The Both, which includes Aimee Mann and Ted Leo.

Here is a YouTube clip posted by theblackandbluepress of Bob Mould & band performing "If I Can't Change Your Mind" on Monday night:

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