Monday, February 25, 2019

That'll Dü: From Past to Present, Bob Mould and Band Blister the Metro -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Bob Mould w/ band
opening act Beach Bunny
Metro, Chicago
February 23 (also played 2/22)

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, the legendary Bob Mould said:

“Somebody once tweeted something like, 'Oh, my God. I’m at a Bob Mould show, and it seems like it’s been an hour and a half of the same song. It’s incredible.' 

At first, I sort of took offense to it, and then I realized, no, that’s actually like, ‘Oh, cool.’ Yeah, so it’s all just one big thing.”

I'm fairly certain I am not the Tweeter Mould was referencing, but I can't deny thinking something similar, largely in a reverential way.

For at age 58, the singer/guitarist/songwriter initially famed for being in Hüsker Dü remains a rather singular force of nature.

Especially when playing with a band, Mould plugs in howls--vocally and instrumentally--for 80-90 minutes with hardly a breath or moment of dead air in between songs.

And whether with Hüsker Dü in the '80s, an early '90s trio called Sugar or as a solo artist, Mould's stock-in-trade has been smouldering rock songs that wrap clever melodies and incisive lyrics within guitar-fueled aggression.

Hence, both to the adoring and the adverse, there can be plenty of similarity over the course of one of Mould's concert performances.

Saturday night was the 11th time I've Bob Mould live on a stage, the first having been in 1994 with  Sugar--technically, I'm not too young to have seen him with Hüsker Dü, but I wasn't hip enough to know it at the time--and the others in a variety of incarnations (full-band, solo with acoustic guitar, solo on electric guitar and acoustic with an another such accompanist). 

He has been stellar in every guise, but over the last decade or so, when playing with Evanston's Jason Narducy on bass and Jon Wuerster from the band Superchunk on drums, he has been especially mind-blowing.

To the point that a superlative show is pretty much a sure thing, as reiterated at Metro, a great Chicago venue he has blistered often.

Whenever tickets went on sale for Friday and Saturday's gigs, I did not jump on getting one.

But last week I realized it had been over two months since I'd been to a concert, and with tickets remaining--they sold out by show time--and the Metro able to accommodate my request for a seat in the balcony, I couldn't resist the chance to see Mould for the first time in 3 years, figuring it a certainty I'd be thoroughly rocked.

And I was.

If you've seen Bob Mould at full-tilt, you probably don't need to be reading this review to know how wondrous he is--especially with Wuerster and Narducy, both outstanding sidemen.

And if you haven't, this isn't going to explain something that can't be explained. It's a unique visceral experience, perhaps akin to standing amid a howling windstorm, joyously.

But you--and especially the 3 pals who accompanied me at the show--may wonder why I awarded @@@@1/2 and not a Seth Saith maximum of @@@@@.

Certainly, it's an inexact delineation, but though there were many blissful moments among the 90 or so minutes Mould & Co. were onstage, it seemed a tad less frenetic than past shows of his I've seen.

If he's slowing down just a bit as he gets older and--per the Rolling Stone interview and his latest album titled Sunshine Rock--seems to be happier, that's really only a good thing.

Mould remains truly incredible, had also played Metro the night before and actually played about 10 minutes longer than past full-band shows have typically yielded.

As I reflected on in my most recent theater review, what I'm really gauging in offering my opinion--and rating--of any show is my emotional experience.

While this was as awesome as can be during Mould's opening quartet of "The War," "A Good Idea," "I Apologize" and "Hoover Dam," seven of the subsequent 21 songs--see the setlist here--came from Sunshine Rock, which was just released on February 8.

While I've repeatedly listened to and like that album--which in its essence isn't all that different from 2016's Patch the Sky, 2014's Beauty and Ruin, 2012's Silver Age, etc., etc.--the songs have yet to fully soak in, hence a sense of sameness was exacerbated midway through the set..

I long ago realized that it doesn't matter all that much exactly which songs Bob Mould chooses to play at a given show, as the torrid soundscape is brilliant regardless.

But eschewing Sugar's "Your Favorite Thing"--which had been in all the tour setlists before Chicago--not only eliminated one of my absolute favorites, the show could have used its poppy, melodic and presumably well-known punch.

The 25 songs did include seven from Hüsker Dü--if you include their cover of the Mary Tyler Moore theme, "Love is All Around"--along with three from Sugar and more recent gems like "I Don't Know You Anymore" and "Hey Mr. Grey."

So as Mould is soon to commemorate 40 years of making music publicly with a pair of upcoming shows in St. Paul, he well demonstrated that he's long been a master at multiple crafts: songwriting, singing, playing guitar, delivering thunderous concerts, etc.

And it's certainly to his credit that brand new tunes like "Sunny Love Song" and "I Fought" can slot in seamlessly with Hüsker Dü classics like "Chartered Trips" and "Makes No Sense at All."

Though he didn't say anything about it in introduction, it was also cool that he opened the encore--alone--with "Never Talking to You Again," a Hüsker Dü song that his late, supposedly long estranged bandmate Grant Hart had written and sung. 

Clearly, Mould has set a high bar, and strictly in terms of his performance alongside Narducy and Wuerster--with a nice opening set from Beach Bunny--he cleared it.

One wonders how long he can rock at 180mph, but even if he moderates to 150mph, it seems he should still be in great stead for a few more years, at least.

But I just didn't find myself staring breathlessly with mouth agape as at some past Mould band shows, and along with ripping through "Your Favorite Thing"--as he delectably did "If I Can't Change Your Mind"--I think he'd been well served to swap out a couple new tunes for some that have had a chance to germinate a bit more. ("Stupid Now," "Underneath Days," "Egøverride," "Lucifer and God" and the Sugar B-side "Needle Hits E" being just a few possibilities among those I cherish.)

I hope these are taken as the minor quibbles that I intend them, for once again Bob Mould delighted me plenty.

And among friends, with a balcony seat, at a classic Chicago venue, what's 1/2@ mean anyway?

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