Bob Mould at the Woman's Club Assembly, 3/4/14
Photo by Tony Nelson
with Paul Metzger
Woman's Club Assembly, Minneapolis
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Most albums don't age well. It's just a fact. Even if it's an album you love, it likely still sounds dated. Tuesday night at the Woman's Club, however, Bob Mould played much of his 25-year-old solo debut, Workbook, along with a smattering of other material from his substantial back catalog and made what amounted to closing arguments in the case for him being recognized as one of the greatest living songwriters.
Opening with the weird, lovely "Sunspots," Mould -- who was clad in a Minnesota-emblazoned T-shirt -- and bassist Jason Narducy and cellist Alison Chesley quickly rolled into "Wishing Well." It was already apparent the ex-Hüsker Dü/Sugar principal fashioned such a fantastic, pliable, yet sturdy set of songs for Workbook, that they translated to buzzsaw amplification seamlessly and took on a bit of a new sheen in the process.
As the set progressed with a wrenching version of "See a Little Light," it was clearly not going to be a by-the-numbers, front-to-back treatment of the album. Just a few songs in, Mould threw the first curveball, with "Stand Guard" and "Stop Your Crying, both from 1990's Black Sheets of Rain. The surprises continued with "No Reservations," a song from his days in Hüsker Dü, all the while looking like he was having the time of his life.
Photo by Tony Nelson
The band got back to the immediate matter at hand with "Poison Years" and "Brasilia Crossed With Trenton" highlighting another magic trick, just another of several Mould managed during the Workbook song cycle. These songs have aged much the way human beings do, growing somehow more complex, more contradictory, more knowing. It's seemingly impossible, as the lyrics have not changed and songs, in a broad sense, are static entities, yet it could not be denied. The sadness and conflict apparent on every note of Workbook never became quaint or hokey. Instead, it became simply more human.
"Sinners and Their Repentances" was next, followed by "Lonely Afternoon." The latter was possibly the only song that lost a bit in translation to electric. Its quiet nature, which could sound almost whispery at low volume, simply washed out a bit plugged in. "The Descent" from 2012's Silver Age dovetailed nicely with all the nostalgia, proving that Mould has written songs in a way that's somehow timeless. He threw in "Walls in Time" from 2008's District Line for good measure, explaining that it was actually an outtake from Workbook.
Mould and company wrapped up the proper set with two songs from Sugar, Mould's first (and only) Post-Hüsker band outing, "Helpless," and "Hoover Dam." The band left the stage to a standing ovation but quickly returned to crank out a few more, including a cover of Verbow's "Holiday" with Narducy on vocals -- it was his and Chelsey's old band, after all -- and another Sugar song with "If I Can't Change Your Mind."
Overall, it was a mind- and eardrum-blowing affair. Few, if any, ugly notes were hit. It was one of those "I'll remember this forever"-type sets you get from musicians once in awhile, where at one point the air seems to get sucked out of the room for just a second and when the room refills, everyone knowingly nods at each other, realizing they're watching a checkpoint being erected alongside the road in their minds.
Photo by Tony Nelson
About halfway through the set, Mould told a story of visiting the farm last summer in Pine City -- the farm he used to own. He was invited in, shown the property and was, like all prior owners of any property, a bit let down by some of the changes the new owners had made. "It was mine then, it's theirs now, it'll be someone else's in the future, " he lamented, "that's how things go. Except 25-year-old records, I guess. I get to keep those," he joked. But he was wrong about that last part. He doesn't get to keep it. We all get to keep it, if we want and there's nothing anyone seemed to mind about the changes the previous, original owner of that album had made to it on Tuesday night.
Critic's Bias: I've made no secret of the fact that Bob Mould is a hero of mine and Tuesday's set only served to strengthen that feeling.
The Crowd: Most were old enough to have possibly seen Mould play with Hüsker Dü when they were playing dives in downtown Minneapolis like the Longhorn.
Overheard in the Crowd: A lot of cheering and song requests early on, then just a lot of cheering. It was the most reserved, respectful crowd I'd been a part of in a long while.
Notebook Dump: These songs have a eloquence amidst the fiery urgency that Hüsker Dü never had. Mould really found himself on this record.
Heartbreak a Stranger
See a Little Light
Stop Your Crying
No Reservations (Hüsker Dü song)
Brasilia Crossed With Trenton
Sinners and Their Repentances
Walls in Time
Helpless (Sugar song)
Hoover Dam (Sugar song)
Holiday (Verbow cover, Jason Narducy on vocals)
If I Can't Change Your Mind (Sugar song)
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