Back with his fourth or fifth career incarnation since starting in the 1980s with Hüsker Dü is the ol' buzz-guitar king himself, Mr. Bob Mould. He brings his crunchy guitars and cathartic song canon into town for a solo show this Friday at the Southgate House.
Depending on your age, you might know Mould from the dawn of Alternative Rock as the frontman for Hüsker Dü or with his Pop/Punk band Sugar or, more recently, as a solo artist. He has been all of these things and more in his seminal, three-decades-long career.
I remember a time many moons ago when Minneapolis was the music center of the universe. Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, ragged but good Midwestern boys all, were the twin poles on my musical horizon. This was before "Grunge" had been coined and before "Alternative" became just another commercial brand, when Minneapolis trumped Seattle as the home of America's best Post-Punk bands.
Make no mistake, once upon a time these guys were Indie heroes. Nostalgia's warm gaze might soften my focus a bit, but Hüsker Dü, and specifically Mould's melodic guitar and pop sensibility, influenced everyone from the Pixies to Nirvana to My Bloody Valentine. Their sonic blueprint has been traced over for several generations now.
Though not surprising, it's still a crime they've never been given proper credit. It's a painful truism how the pioneers usually fall through the cracks and the artists they spawn reap the benefits and piggyback on the legends of their forbearers.
On the other hand, like many serious artists, Mould doesn't look back. In talking to him, I get the sense that he has come to terms with Hüsker Dü's legacy, after all the documented resentment between him and Grant Hart, Hüsker's other principal songwriter.
"I'm 45 years old — with age comes more tolerance," Mould explains. "I don't feel like I did 25 years ago, but who does? Sometimes I feel like my history is posted on a bulletin board for all to see. But history isn't a fixed entity; the way we look at it is constantly changing."
Regardless, he has "moved on" several times now. Body of Song, his newest release, is widely hailed as a return to form, and amid the hype there's a kernel of truth in that. After his curious forays into club music and Electronica with Modulate, his stint as a DJ in Washington, D.C. and his job as a creative writer/consultant for a TV pro-wrestling show (I kid you not), his new songs radiate that familiar metallic burst of distorted guitar, tuneful hooks and clenched-throat vocals.
"Body of Song is one of the most optimistic records I've made, at least that's how I see it," Mould says. "I've tempered my anger by now."
Once famously described as the "most depressed man in Rock," Mould still brings that sharp, sonic urgency to his songs, but they feel less claustrophobic somehow, less roiled in misery.
In yet another anomaly, The O.C. , the popular young-adult TV show set in sunny California, recently used Mould's lead track, "Circles," on the program.
"I am friends with their music director," Mould explains. "I'd hoped (The) O.C. would bring my music to a new, younger audience, but there's so much stuff out there."
It's hard to reconcile Mould's dark, furious vision — not to mention his cold, Minnesota roots — with such a saccharine, trendy show, but that's a paradox he's willing to live with. The bottom line is it's good to hear Mould's music anywhere you can these days.
Mould now calls Washington, D.C., home. "I left Minneapolis behind in '89, moved to New York for years and then relocated in D.C. four years ago," he says. "I like the idiosyncrasies here, and with what's going on politically, it often feels like the center of the country."
He still DJs at a local club and he's working on a new project called Blowoff with Richard Morel, which combines House music and lo-fi Indie. He's also in the final stages of mixing a live concert DVD.
When it comes to Rock, Mould has almost always worked exclusively within the power-trio format, from Hüsker Dü to Sugar to his self-named band. A large vein of minimalism courses through his deep song catalogue. There's no fat on his records, just a streamlined, instrumental sheen that glints off his best work in an apocalyptic, scorched-earth glow.
He's playing solo shows on this tour. "I play about 50/50 acoustic and electric, depending on the audience," Mould says. "My songbook stays pretty wide open these days."
This is a special treat for his longtime fans. Several months ago I saw him play a solo gig in Columbus before a packed house, and his legendary wall of sound still intimidates even when performing alone. It's beyond me how his hearing is intact after all these years — maybe there really is something to earplugs after all.
With his cherry Strat in hand, he roared through a set of his trademark machine-gun riffing, drawing from every stage of his career. When you hear songs from Hüsker's Zen Arcade or Flip Your Wig next to Sugar's Copper Blue and then his debut solo album, Workbook, you realize how consistently strong Mould's work has been.
In the end, he encored with the soaring Hüsker epic "No Reservations," and it sums up all the goodwill he has earned and shared with his audience through the years: "Come along, come along with me/We'll go to places that we have never seen/And if we're together, we'll have a happy time/'Cause I got no reservations."
Rage on, Bob. Rage on.
BOB MOULD performs at the Southgate House Friday with Wake the Bear.