It felt like Homecoming. Fall and football, colors turning on the drive to the show. Homecoming because it felt like it had been awhile since a trip to the Mainroom. Homecoming because so many made it back.
Admittedly, Bob Mould is not a Minnesotan. He hails from New York. But the connection is so strong. He attended college here and formed Husker Du, the band that put the Minnesota rock scene on the map. Mould may have learned at the feet of Chris Osgood and The Suicide Commandos but he and the Hooskers were the frenetic power punks that hit the big time. We rightfully claim him
Normally, the Mainroom fills slowly. Experienced patrons avoid a bit of the rush, knowing the start time for the headliner. Last night, it seemed to happen early. Maybe it was a desire to stake out a favorite spot. Perhaps just excitement to be back among like minded folks at a big rock show. A majority of the crowd raised their hands when asked if it was their first time back out in that big space since Covid shuttered all the sound.
A full house is a dream come true for any opening band. It’s one thing to find yourself on a bill with one of your heroes. It’s a bonus when you get to strut your stuff for an audience you know is a good fit. Kestrels hit the stage doing 60. The moment the screen began its ascent, before any lights even came up, the trio from Halifax, Nova Scotia began blasting from the stage. I’ve seen a pile of bands in that room and I’ve never witnessed a band that seemed so keen to get out of the gates.
Kestrel is cut from a Bob Mould cloth. Power trio. Lots of noise. Vocal styling that seem to float above the dirge rather than getting down in it. Sometimes an opener works on its own merits. Sometimes it’s a misdirection from what’s coming later. And sometimes, it’s a sonic match. A bit grungier than Mould but I really felt as though I was listening to young players that were following the same road map.
The band expressed their delight at finishing up their 8 leg portion of the tour in a room they’d dreamed of playing. The band was wrapping up a career thrill and opportunity. It was fun to share that moment with them.
Normally, my write up for show attempts to report on the pieces and the flow of what made the night interesting to me. But I’ve done that schtick with Bob Mould previously. I found myself wondering where I could find a new angle. It occurred to me I need look to further to the guy on the stage. There are few, if any, rockers who are more authentically what they do than Bob Mould.
Power and speed are words that have always described his style. Husker Du was called the fastest band on the planet. Mould wields that instantly recognizable pewter colored Stratocaster like a knight. Here is no elegant samurai making razor cuts. This is an armor clad behemoth bludgeoning the air with a claymore. It is heavy rock that comes at you relentlessly. No gimmicks. No pretense. Just pure power.
Playing guitar is not easy. If you master a handful of chords, can you stand (or bounce about) on a stage and sell it? Try adding lead lines. It’s two jobs at once. That’s why most rock bands carry two guitar players. Are you going to try to sing at the same time? Can you demand that every eye in the place track your every move, clad only in jeans and black t shirt? Most of us can’t comprehend how difficult and exhausting that really is. It’s generational talent stuff. It’s the stuff of Pete Townshend. Try to count the number of artists who check all those boxes; who walk onto a huge stage without being surrounded by band mates, who can still sell out the likes of First Avenue 40 years into a career. You’ll run out of names before you run out of fingers.
Bob Mould has always flown just a bit under the radar. Maybe because his sound is too aggressive to be commercial. Because he sticks to a road he essentially invented and owns. Post Husker Du, you’re not going to find that album that breaks through like Zen Arcade did. But I’d also argue that his music since has also continued to grow. Ask me if I want to go see Bob Mould in the 1980s or now…no contest. He’s never been better.
The band laid down a 21 song main set that included exactly one legitimate pause. A moment to talk, catch a breath and tune. Every other single moment contained noise. A song would end in feedback, any stage business got done and the band drove directly into the next. Silence never settled. Even the break before the three song encore featured that electric hum pouring from the empty stage.
Few Mould tunes can be considered ballads. There were a couple which allowed him to catch his breath. But it’s more like the band is just shifting to a lower gear. The speed may slow a bit but the power never wanes. Songs like See A Little Light and Voices In My Head are both beautiful and melodic. There is a shimmer above the power; songs the audience needs to sing.
They gave us everything we could ask. Something for everyone. Seven Husker Du classics, including the entire encore composed of Flip Your Wig, I Apologize and Makes No Sense At All. A pair of tunes from the Sugar years: If I Can’t Change Your Mind and Hoover Dam stood out. If for no other reason than the Sugar years were sweeter. And a deep stroll through the 2020 release Blue Hearts, which he never got to tour. American Crisis was a tune that found radio rotation but the live version lit a fire that could never be captured in a studio.
After a solid 100 minutes of non stop, uninterrupted power, I was exhausted. Mould demands a lot from an audience. It’s not the kind of music to which you can just sit back and listen. His audience is too old (and wise) to mosh. But it’s going on in your head. If the guy didn’t invent the phenomenon, he sure perfected it. So give credit where credit is due. The man is in remarkable shape. At age 62 he works harder on stage than most 30 years his junior.
It’s obvious he’s tapping directly into some kind of rock and roll current. He’s just a conduit to something he’s hearing out there in the spheres. But, man…it’s got to hurt! I can’t imagine what he feels like, climbing exhausted and adrenaline burned, onto his tour bus to head for the next city. Yet, could he could do it any other way? It seems like he’s just being himself; doing exactly what he was meant to do.
If you haven’t been to a Bob Mould show, what’s it like? It could only happen in America. Maybe when you were young, you and your friends got your hands on a tractor tire inner tube. Somebody got the bright idea that if you climbed into the middle and braced yourself, they could push you down the hill. If you were lucky you didn’t crash. Didn’t break anything or get badly bruised. Instead just plowed dizzy and disoriented into the creek. Good clean fun. Some would call you crazy. But some of us want to do it again at the next Homecoming.