Bob Mould looks back and breaks new ground at the 9:30 Club

Post-punk legend Bob Mould performs Copper Blue and Silver Age in their entirety at DC's 9:30 Club.

WASHINGTON, October 3, 2012 —It would be easy to say that Bob Mould is making a comeback. But that sort of thing has never been key to his musical identity. Mould’s either been the or one of the focal points of two bands who have garnered high critical praise – Hüsker Dü and Sugar. But neither of these bands, nor Mould’s solo career, have received much mainstream attention. Not that Mould himself has ever really angled for that kind of attention, of course.

In the last year and a half though, Mould has seen the release of his memoir, written with Michael Azerrad, entitled See a Little Light: The Trial of Rage and Melody; a new solo album Silver Age; and the re-release of Sugar’s 1992 album Copper Blue. So, right now is something of a significant period in Mould’s life, relatively speaking. Mould’s recent show at the 9:30 Club Saturday night—part of a tour to perform Silver Age and Copper Blue in their entirety—seemed geared toward honoring this recent output while affording the artist a fresh chance to put some perspective on his musical career.

When Bob Mould started out as a musician, he surfaced in the Minneapolis hardcore punk scene with Hüsker Dü at a time when he could barely play the guitar. Still, even at their earliest stage, co-writer/drummer Grant Hart and Mould weren’t necessarily the kind of songwriters who fit in with the hardcore punk scene. Sure, the Hüskers played exceedingly fast, but they clearly had different musical interests and goals in mind that eventually bridged American punk with ‘80s post-punk. With each release, they became less identified with either genre and more just as pure guitar driven rock band.

Listening Mould play through Copper Blue and Silver Age, it’s easy to notice not much has changed about Mould’s musical instincts since the ‘80s. He’s become a more accomplished musician for sure and this affords him the freedom to do more things. He also doesn’t play quite as fast as he did with the Hüskers, and nowhere near as mind numbingly fast as their live shows were reputed to be. What’s clear enough, though, is that Mould is still an excellent straight up rock musician.

Performing songs from his most influential post ‘80s album and his most recent album helped Mould add a new perspective to his career. The songs from both albums aren’t unique in and of themselves, but they do shine as distinctive stars in their own little Bob Mould universe. Every one of Mould’s songs possesses a sonic distortion and fuzz that’s similar to other bands out there, but has a distinctive twist that he’s been perfecting since his Hüsker Dü days.

The only difference between then and now is that Mould’s sound has become more streamlined and a lot of the rough edges have been rounded off.  This is to be expected from a performer who’s hit 50 years of age but still hasn’t lost any of his spirit or edge.

Much like his individualistic flavor of sound, a few other things have remained the same for Mould over the years. For one, his voice still has that strong and raspy boom to it. What’s interesting though is how much it wavers and quivers around the edges, with a rough tremolo that seems on the verge of cracking, especially when he approaches that ‘80s scream, which is infrequent these days but still on the menu.  But his voice never cracks, and it gives his performance, like the musician himself, a uniquely weathered edge.

One other thing in Mould’s long career hasn’t seemed to change, either: his audience, which is largely comprised of former ‘80s punks and ‘90s college rock enthusiasts. There’s a lot of crossover potential there, but while they’ve all matured, none of them seemed to feel out of place or like they were reliving their youths during Mould’s performance here. Everything just seemed natural as they rocked out along with Mould.

The entire scene has to do with how Mould presents himself and how he’s been able to evolve without ever seeming to be out of place.  At his 9:30 Club set, he played a long list of songs, even after he finished up those mandatory Copper Blue and Silver Age selections, including a few choice cuts from his Hüsker Dü days. Together, his entire playlist blended into one cohesive set.

It gradually became clear that Mould simply keeps playing straight ahead rock with a pop tinge around the edges, which is something that doesn’t go out of style or bow to any fleeting trend.  It’s for this reason that his audience has been able to grow with him no matter when they jumped on board with the program. Mould comes across like he’s just a guy who happens to play rock music exceptionally well, and that’s really the secret of his continuing charm.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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