Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review: Bob Mould Band live in Philly at the TLA, September 5, 2014

Bob Mould walked onstage last night with his bandmates Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster, grinned a little, leaned back and launched headlong into "Flip Your Wig" followed by "Hate Paper Doll." I kind of lost my shit a little.

Witnessing the recent rock and roll rejuvenation of Bob Mould has been nothing short of mindblowing.

The man is 53 years old, and he's bouncing around the stage like the same guy I saw with Hüsker Dü at an ironically-named ("The Opera House") warehouse-y dump in Philly in May 1985. And here's the thing: his current band may just be his best ever.

I'll fess up and admit that while I am a huge fan of Hüsker Dü, Sugar and Bob's early solo career, he lost me a little post-Sugar. I saw the Hüskers three times, Sugar once, and countless solo acoustic/electric shows into the early 2000s. But the post-Sugar solo albums were missing something to my ears. Yeah, they all (OK, I'm not counting his foray into electronica) had good songs, but their overall impact was just missing that thing-- we'll call it urgency -- that characterized everything the man ever touched prior to 1995 or so. Moreover, those solo shows? Yeah, I loved watching him tear into the classics, but, no matter how hard he ranted and raved and beat the living bejeezus out of his long-suffering guitars, he was all by himself up there; what he really needed was a band (maaaaaan).

In 2012, he finally got that band, courtesy of Narducy and Wurster. You may recognize them as the current live-show rhythm section of Superchunk, but before Wurster recruited Narducy for that gig, they had both signed on with Mould for Bob's Silver Age album.

To give you some idea of the seismic shift that Silver Age was, imagine if the Rolling Stones released Goats Head Soup now. Not in 1973 when it was a solid, but slightly flawed record. But right fucking now. Heads would explode all over the world. That's what Silver Age was like. It followed a collection of solo records that all had their highlights, but the distortion-drenched atavisms of SA were leaps and bounds beyond their immediate predecessors. It was right back to the glory days. This was a record that reeked of a Hüskers/Sugar hybrid. Dig this, for example:

In that song, and on the rest of that album, Mould is feeding off the energy of his new bandmates, and they, unsurprisingly are returning the awe and wonder of playing music with Bob Fucking Mould and revving things up a little more. It's a joyous/cathartic romp through power chords, pounding drums, vocal harmonies and urgent basslines. This year saw the same band release Beauty and Ruin. And the rampage continues:

And the live show that results? It's.... I'm not sure "fucking spectacular" begins to convey it. As I mentioned, they blasted through a couple Hüsker Dü songs to start. The set** that followed never let up. A large portion of Beauty and Ruin was played, some of Silver Age and a heaping serving of Hüsker Dü and Sugar songs. Hell, Bob even "rocked up" one ("Sinners and Their Repentances") from his first solo album, Workbook, to great effect.

Highlights? The entire show, start to finish. Really.

But if you make me pick a few, after the "Flip" intro, I'd say that "The Descent" and "Tomorrow Morning" were solo-album songs that were particularly crushing in their intensity. "Changes" had harmonies courtesy of Narducy that made even grumpy-looking Bob smile. "Hoover Dam" was, somehow, even better than the Sugar version, which I previously regarded as a near-perfect rendition. "Something I Learned Today" and "In a Free Land" made me wonder just how the hell Wurster keeps going at that intensity for an entire show.  And "Chartered Trips".... How do you make "Chartered Trips" into an even more perfect blast of everything ever? Add a coda with pounding drums and slashing chords. The set-closer that followed "Chartered Trips" was "Fix It" and, as much as I love that song, it barely registered with me after the roar that preceded it.

My mind is duly blown, gentlemen. I am back on board and will see this band every fucking time I get the chance.

(Next time in Philly, how about "Real World" with all of its glorious kerrang? That would up the ante even more, if that's even possible.)


Flip Your Wig
Hate Paper Doll
Star Machine
The Descent
Little Glass Pill
I Don't Know You Anymore
Sinners And Their Repentances
Kid With Crooked Face
Nemeses Are Laughing
The War
Hardly Getting Over It
Keep Believing
Come Around
Hoover Dam
Tomorrow Morning
If I Can't Change Your Mind
Hey Mr. Grey
Chartered Trips
Fix It
In A Free Land
something I Learned Today
Makes No Sense At All
Love Is All Around

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