So here’s the deal. This concert took place eleven days ago, yet I am still searching for all the right words to describe this EXPERIENCE. You see folks, the Bob Mould Band playing one of rock and roll’s all-time greatest albums in its entirety, 1992’s Copper Blue from Mould’s second crucial band Sugar was much more than a simple concert. The fact everyone I saw at the venue afterward had the same stunned look on their faces that I had told me I was not alone in my assessment. Bob Mould took the concert experience to a completely new level this evening.
First things first. A HUGE thank you to my buddy Duane in Minneapolis for scoring the ticket for me, ensuring I would have an opportunity to witness this concert. Earlier in the year when Mould played Copper Blue in its entirety for the first time ever at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco I missed out. Tickets sold out, I was left out in the cold and figured I had missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime event. Duane gave me the heads-up the Copper Blue show was coming to Minneapolis and to add fuel to the fire, the Bob Mould Band would also be playing part of its new album Silver Age that was just released this month. No-brainer folks, I was in.
Three years ago I was supposed to see the Bloc Party play a gig at the legendary First Avenue in Minneapolis. That show got cancelled but luckily enough for me Bob Mould was playing an acoustic show at the Varsity Theater. For the uninitiated, if you have seen the movie “Purple Rain” the concert footage of Prince, The Time and Apollonia was filmed at the First Avenue. That venue has been on my bucket list for years, so as bummed as I was that three years ago an opportunity to see a show there was taken away, I was really stoked that my initial First Avenue experience was going to be seeing Bob play there. The outside of the venue is painted black with white stars showing different artists that have played there. To say that I was a little giddy when the Bob Mould star was at ground level is an understatement. 🙂
Duane took me on a tour of the club once we got inside. If you have not been to this venue before it is simply awesome. First Avenue is the main venue with two smaller venues, the 7th Street Entry and The Record Room connected to each end of the First Avenue. Duane was telling me that many nights there are shows going in all three venues at once and you can move back and forth between shows. We started to walk into 7th Street Entry before a security guard stopped us. There was sound check going on in there at the time for our show, either the Bob Mould Band or the opener All Eyes West, can’t remember which one.
When we got back to the floor of the First Avenue the other three guys with us had secured a spot right in front of the stage at the rail. How cool were these guys? “Frank, for your first First Avenue experience you have to ride the rail.” Yep, these guys gave me the honor of being right in front of the stage for the concert. All I could think was, “this is too cool. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!”
All Eyes West, a three-piece punk band from Chicago opened the show. They completely smoked, high-octane punk rock with that old-school Chicago sound that recalled The Effigies and Naked Raygun. The guitarist played like a man possessed the entire set and even when his distortion pedal went out he simply plugged in directly to his amp and continued without missing a beat. The kicks he did all night reminded me of Al Barile from SSD. What an amazing way to start the evening!
The 6:00pm door opening time meant an early evening, so it was pretty awesome that Bob Mould, bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster strode onstage around 8:30pm or so. I was already pumped that I was riding the rail, but the fact Mould was right in front of me made that exponentially better. This was pure shock and awe. Mould did not say a word to the crowd. He simply grabbed his guitar and looked at the crowd that was going absolutely apeshit at this point. Then he launched into the lead track from Copper Blue, “The Act We Act”.
That moment is going to resonate with me for a long time because it was the beginning of a live concert experience unlike anything I have ever witnessed. The guitar intro to that song is so intense, even more so in this case because of what that moment signified. Mould stalked the stage like a caged animal once the rest of the band joined in, hammering away at his guitar until assuming his position in front of the mic. We knew he truly meant it when he bellowed “the act we act is wearing thin” during the chorus.
I was already exhausted at the end of the first song but Jason Narducy did not allow the crowd a moment to breathe. That opening bass line to “A Good Idea” is one of my favorite moments from Copper Blue and Narducy delivered it with powerful precision. When Jon Wurster added his touch on the drums to the mix the stage was set for Mould to become a part of the equation. As loud as the band was you could still hear the crowd join in the chorus of “that’s a good idea, she said she said”. Only two songs in and one of the most potent moments of the set had already occurred!
The energy continued with “Changes” and “Helpless”, two of the songs that even the uneducated Sugar fan may have heard due to MTV’s 120 Minutes from back in the day. The cool segway from the album in between the two songs was even included in the concert before Jon Wurster introduced “Helpless” with that awesome drum line created originally by Sugar drummer Malcolm Travis. “Hoover Dam” was awesome, great vocal harmonies between Mould and Narducy during this song.
Those three songs allowed the First Avenue crowd a brief time to collect themselves after the fury of the first two songs played. They also set the stage for, at least in my mind, one of the highlights of the show, the sixth song from Copper Blue, “The Slim”. This song is one of Mould’s most poignant creations, a truly emotional track about losing someone to AIDS. The slower tempo of this song masks the brutal fury of the guitar and vocal delivery. Add in the tune’s lyrical content and you have everything necessary for one special concert moment. The concert was already A+ for me. This was the moment I was in pure awe.
“If I Can’t Change Your Mind” is a great tune, one of Bob’s best pure pop songs. After the in-your-face delivery of “The Slim” this was the perfect transition. I have seen Mould play this song many times, but the next track “Fortune Teller” was a first for me. If you have the Copper Blue reissue you will notice that on the bonus CD with a live 1992 concert from Chicago this was the only song from the album not played. I was stoked to see it played live since it is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Needless to say Mould, Narducy and Wurster did a bang-up job delivering this great song live. I thought it was one of Mould’s best and most powerful vocal deliveries of the night, pure punk rock fury. It was awesome.
“Slick” and “Man on the Moon” rounded out the Copper Blue part of this set. “Slick” was simply vicious. I have to admit, I sang the “ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba” intro when Bob did, but I left the singing of “they said the road was slick – and I said, “well, I’ve been feeling sick” – my head went through the mirror – why did they send you here?” to the man himself. No way did I want to spoil that brutal chorus.
Now I figured Bob and co. would leave the stage at this point to prepare for the Silver Age part of the set. I was exhausted and I was just watching, so a breather would have been splendid. No dice! For the first time all evening Bob took a break from playing to address the crowd. Going back to the Husker Du days he has played the First Avenue many, many times, so he commented about how great the new PA is at the venue. Coolest comment from Bob? “Glad you could all make it for our flashback Saturday.” He asked the crowd about the Twins (boos from crowd) and Bachmann (more boos and laughter this time). Next question … “Silver Age?” The crowd went nuts and part II of this amazing evening began.
There is only one downside (if that exists in this case) to a show where an album is played in its entirety; you already know what song comes next. I loved it, but the surprises from the second half of the show is what elevated this concert to a level I still cannot comprehend eleven days later.
Track one from Silver Age “Star Machine” appropriately led things off and immediately transitioned into my favorite song from the album “The Descent”. Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster played on the recording of Silver Age so the tightness shown by the band was absolutely impeccable. Check out the September 10 Musings post to see the official video and a live rendition of “The Descent”. “Round the City Square” was played next, so the First Avenue crowd was treated to three new songs right off the bat.
“Circles” from Body of Song was played next, the one solo track Mould played this evening not from Silver Age. Love this song, a staple of the Mould concert for years now. “Silver Age” was delivered with uncompromising fury next. This song is the most incendiary from the new album, full of classic Bob Mould rage. Simply awesome and considering the power and intensity of the song the perfect foreshadowing for what came next.
Yep, the time had arrived for Bob, Jason and Jon to unleash some Husker Du material on the crowd. By the way, STILL NO BREAK AT THIS POINT, THIS IS STILL SET ONE! “I Apologize” from New Day Rising was first. This has been another Mould live staple for years, including when I saw him play Coachella back in 2009.
Now, there have been several moments up to this point that could easily be classified as the ultimate point of the set. Well, for me that happened when “Chartered Trips” from Husker Du’s legendary 1984 album Zen Arcade was played. Good God, that song was played so loud, so fast … it was one of those rare moments of controlled chaos you sometimes experience at a concert when the band is right at the cusp of pushing things over the edge but falls just short of total annihilation. What a moment folks!
“Keep Believing” is another stellar track from Silver Age and brought the first set to a rousing conclusion. Eighteen songs, including all ten from Copper Blue, five from Silver Age, one other solo track and two Husker Du songs. Everyone in the crowd knew the Bob Mould Band would come back out for more. The question was what else could they possibly play?
The band did not make us wait long at all before they hit the stage once again (you have to love the non-rock star mentality). While waiting for the band to come back out I ran through my mind other Husker Du songs since I figured that is what the band would play for an encore. “Makes No Sense At All”? “Celebrated Summer”? “Hardly Getting Over It”? Boy was I wrong! The opening drum beat and bass line of the lead track from Zen Arcade got the encore off to a rousing start. “Something I Learned Today” was delivered with reckless abandon from all three members of the band, totally intense but with a frightening efficiency. That track gave way to the first song of the night that I did not recognize. It completely shredded, was pure old school punk rock and for a very brief moment made me wish there was a slam pit at the First Avenue. I had to cheat to find out the name of what was the last song of the evening, “In a Free Land”. Click this link to read a great review of this show from a Minneapolis local. I was even more stunned in regards to the finale of the concert once I read this blog.
Folks, I waited eleven days to write this review and still do not know if I was able to properly put into words what I witnessed that evening. I can honestly say after this much time of reflection this concert ranks #1 on my all-time list for greatest concerts I have seen. Yes, over that incredible Dead Can Dance concert from just one month ago and yes, over the May 2008 Elbow show in Denver, CO at the Bluebird Theatre.
This was a long review and yes, I am still speechless. Thank you Duane for making sure I had a ticket and special thanks to Duane, Kelly, Matt and Doug for letting me ride the rail. Cheers!