With all the “new” new wave bands zipping through the mainstream’s Xerox machine, it’s heartening to know that at least a few originals remain. Of course, Curt Kirkwood and Bob Mould were never new wave, and they’ve each made a few changes since 1985. Rather than acting as frontmen for the Meat Puppets and Hüsker Dü respectively, these former SST labelmates now go it alone.
The drugs are gone too: the once-trippy Kirkwood has traded his high times for clarity, and the formerly speed-hopped Mould has long since embraced the concept of sleep (no more 80-hour recording sessions or straight-through cross-country tours).
While both artists have explored an array of genres and sounds in the past quarter-century, solo they each broke from the sounds that most associate with their careers. Kirkwood traded in the Meat Puppets’ punky psychedelia for a more folky, acoustic approach. Mould, meanwhile, used a single electric guitar to carry him through both old and new tunes.
Of course, “some things,” as Kirkwood once croaked on the Meat Puppets’ sole radio semi-hit “Backwater”, “will never change”, and one of those things is the fanbase: disproportionately male, predominantly middle-aged, these guys looked like they had been fans since Hüsker Dü‘sZen Arcade hit the shelves in 1984. As such, the crowd stood a welcomed distance from the too-pervasive Hollywood hipster set. We all watched with rapt, respectful attention though—no heckling here.
Mould was the clear draw, but Kirkwood still played well to the slowly filling room. Alternating between classic Meat Puppets songs and material from his new solo album Snow, Kirkwood showed he still knows how to build momentum, occasionally letting loose with a wild howl before dropping off and rebuilding from a quiet calm. His take on the Puppets’ “Plateau” brought forth memories of Nirvana’s unplugged rendition, but Kirkwood gracefully reclaimed his song without comment. The quality of his new tunes suggests that his years spent in the musical wilderness are finally drawing to a close.
Mould hit the stage to reverent applause, kicking things off with the one-two punch of “Wishing Well” and “Hear Me Calling” Both lent themselves to his stripped-down approach, as did the next song, “Hoover Dam”, from his post-Hüsker band Sugar. Mould’s historic reluctance to linger on his past has been dispensed for this tour, so we also got the 1989 gem “See a Little Light”, accompanied by a corny but cute switching on of the house lights.
The strength of the material, the passion in Mould’s voice, and the artist’s fairly recent conversion from taciturn figure to personable stage presence all contributed to a stellar forty-five minutes. Mould even joked about his stiff legs after a hard workout, and he tried out a new song whose lyrics escaped him halfway through.
But as he turned his attention toward material from last year’s Body of Song, Mould’s solo approach showed its limitations. The new album, recorded with former Sugar bassist David Barbe and ex-Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, has been billed as Mould’s return to standard rock form, after 2002’s unfairly maligned electronic Modulate, and he had been touring with a full band. Its presence was sorely missed as Mould turned to the new songs and hit the distortion pedal. Without Barbe’s pulsating bass and Canty’s thundering backbeat, “Circles” and “Paralyzed” sounded woefully incomplete.
Mould clearly recognized the parameters of his solo framework, declining to include the raging “Underneath Days” or the bass-driven “Always Tomorrow”. The Mould obsessives (including myself) who made up much of the audience clearly wouldn’t have cared if he had started pulling out Train covers (the bland MOR band recently covered his “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”, which he mentioned with good-natured humor, grateful for the royalties).
But for the less fanatical, the show dragged a bit; my friend found Mould an impressive performer but wished he hadn’t gone on for so long. The quick strums of the classic Hüsker songs near the set’s end worked more effectively, and Mould closed in true DIY fashion: not only did he serve as his own roadie—setting up and taking down his equipment—he also worked as his own merch guy, selling work by his techno side project LoudBomb (check the anagram) and a 1998 live album, each for a ridiculously low $5.
He signed my Warehouse: Songs and Stories sleeve and seemed genuinely appreciative when I blurted out my incoherent thanks. I’ve now got Grant Hart’s signature on the back and Mould’s on the front. I’ll have to go to Minnesota to get Greg Norton’s. It’d be nice if were easier, but since there will never be a Hüsker Dü reunion, I’ll take what I can get.