Famed punk rock icon Bob Mould took the Troubadour stage this last Tuesday with only an electric guitar for company, and proved why he is one of the genre’s most venerable frontmen and songwriters.
Opening the show was Mould’s Merge Records label mate H.C. McEntire. Taking the stage with just one of her normal bandmates, the singer/songwriter performed some sparse, beautiful renditions of new material, as well as a few songs from her catalogue. Her harmonizing with her bandmate was perfect, and though she faced some guitar troubles part-way into her set (a string breaking mid-song, and then some tuning difficulties), she covered these moments with some fun banter until she dropped the guitar entirely and let her bandmate pull double duty.
Those who are familiar with Bob Mould‘s long musical history, from his start fronting Minneapolis punks Hüsker Dü, to his 90’s power pop band Sugar, to his solo work over the last two decades, know Mould is a versatile songwriter who knows how to craft powerful, often raging punk barnburners. So how would these songs translate to a solo electric performance?
For the most part – fantastically. Without the added cacophony of drums and bass on classic Hüsker Dü tracks like “Flip Your Wig” and “I Apologize”, the sharp and meaningful songwriting of those tracks was able to push through, even if the musical power was perhaps softened a bit in the stripped-back arrangement. Mould’s set-list was fairly evenly split between his solo work and songs from Hüsker Dü‘s catalogue, with Sugar‘s defining hits “Helpless” and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” being the only tracks from that band’s catalogue included (though that made it all the more exciting to hear them).
Of his solo work, newer tracks like “Forecast of Rain” felt incredibly potent in the setting, with the track’s foreboding emotion hitting home. “See a Little Light” was made for a solo electric performance like this, as it’s one of Mould’s most singer-songwriter type songs in his catalogue. The anguish of “Voices in My Head” still connected as well as it did on record, and while “Sunshine Rock” didn’t blaze as brightly as the full band version (with it’s crescendoing bridge), the enthusiasm and joy at the song’s heart shone through all the same.
More interesting was seeing how the Hüsker Dü material played without that band’s powerful chops backing the songs. Mould is a true punk troubadour, delivering each song with impassioned vocals as he railed away on guitar. Spit and sweat spraying a dripping with each word, there was no doubt the man was giving it his all, and it was this energy that made his need of a band obsolete. While “Hate Paper Doll” perhaps lacked a bit of the force without a band, “Hardly Getting Over It” was even more moving than on record. And set closer “Makes No Sense At All” was as catchy and riotous as one would hope for.
Bob Mould has earned his reputation as one of the best and most influential punk songwriters. That so many of his songs can hold up when played with just a guitar and vocals shows how good they are; the words and melodies cut through, whether joined by a wave of rock thrashing or cut back to their barest bones. It was a ‘first time joy’ to see Mould in this type of setting.