It is impossible to speak of music happening in the Twin Cities scene without putting it through a purple filter.
Remembering Prince and celebrating his legacy is the right thing to do, and if you have been within three blocks of First Avenue since last Thursday, it's all on display. It felt very different walking into the venerable club Saturday night, and it will probably stay that way for a while.
Once inside, relative rock 'n' roll newcomers Fury Things kicked the evening off right with an attack rooted in quality '90s indie rock. It was all fuzzed-out guitars, channeling bands like Alligator Gun (from Milwaukee — anyone?) and Overwhelming Colorfast. Midway through their set, they slowed things down for a psychedelic freakout reminiscent of Jawbreaker’s Bivouac.
Next up, Minneapolis legends the Suicide Commandos. The veteran trio commandeered the stage for a tight set of primal punk rock recorded before there was a definitive term for it.
Guitarist Chris Osgood looked like he was about to head out fishing as soon as he finished slaying the crowd with his guitar, bassist Steve Almaas rocked with youthful abandon, and drummer Dave Ahl massacred his kit in the name of rock.
The Commandos hit all the right spots with “Shock Appeal," “Burn It Down," “Real Cool," “You Can’t," “Mosquito Crucifixion," etc. They pulled out a cover of Larry Williams’ “Slow Down," a go-to cover choice for the Beatles and every other band in history. Confession: They could have just played a 45-minute version of “Burn It Down," and I would have been happy.
After complimenting Fury Things (“Aren’t they great?!”), Osgood went on, “We’re happy to be here with Bob, and especially this week we are reminded of all the great stuff that’s happened here." Don’t think we didn’t notice the purple bandana around your neck, sir.
Mould came out to play the final song of Suicide Commandos’ set: “Complicated Fun." Wowsers. What a song! What a way to end a set. “SO WE ROOOCK," Indeed. As Mould ran off the stage with a grin on his face, Osgood said, “There he goes. I wonder when we’ll see him again.”
Soon, as it turned out.
Not really known as a chatty performer, Mould, along with his partners in crime bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster, stormed the stage with two songs from Mould's '90s band: Sugar's “A Good Idea” and “Changes." Without stopping to breathe, the band steamrolled through new Mould solo LP Patch the Sky’s “The End of Things” and 2012’s “The Descent.”
And we're off. There wasn’t an acoustic guitar within a million miles of First Ave that night. The headliners tore through 30-some-odd years of Mould’s catalog with fierce, amplified resolve.
Whether returning to Sugar for electrifying versions of “Hoover Dam," “If I Can’t Change Your Mind," and “Come Around” (mostly acoustic affairs on their studio albums), or back to Patch the Sky for the mid-tempo “Voices in My Head," Mould, Narducy, and Wurster showed how to master melody, noise, tempo, and emotion.
Other highlights included tracks “Hey Mr. Grey” and “I Don’t Know You Anymore” off of Beauty & Ruin, but lest you think they ignored that other band Mould was in:
They partied like it was 1985 on New Day Rising’s “I Apologize” and “Celebrated Summer," two classic Hüsker Dü scorchers. Halfway through the dramatic interpretation of Candy Apple Grey’s “Hardly Getting Over It," it became clear that the song had taken on additional emotional weight in light of the passing of Prince.
“It’s an extreme pleasure playing this stage, but coming into town Thursday was crazy ...” Mould said (his moving public eulogy can be found here, and it is worth a read).
Ending their main set with “Chartered Trips” from Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, it was all echoed vocals and catharsis. It took going back to 1984 to perfectly cap off a decades-spanning history lesson.
Of course there would be an encore — the packed crowd would have it no other way. As encores go, they can either feel like contractual obligations, or they can be like Saturday night. It was pure joy to watch the Suicide Commandos come out to perform Prince’s “When You Were Mine” (sung by Bob’s tour manager!) with Mould and Co.
“Forty years ago today – what?!” demanded Jon Wurster as he took the mic. “Forty years ago today, the first album by the Ramones came out. It changed your life [gesturing to the assembled musicians on stage]. It changed my life. Let’s fucking beat on the brat with a fucking baseball bat!”
Ramones covers are always welcome, but they are rarely delivered with such fun, inclusiveness, and warmth as “Beat on the Brat” was by the Suicide Mould Commandos on Saturday night.
If your concert gets to a second encore, it’s the real deal. When the Bob Mould trio came back out for “Love Is All Around” (Mary Tyler Moore theme) and Hüsker cut “Makes No Sense At All," you knew the famous First Avenue mainstage had just hosted one of those shows, one we’ll talk about years later.
Part of it might have been the Irish wake atmosphere palpable both inside and outside the club. Prince was being honored, remembered, and celebrated. The other part was the sheer power of the musicianship on display. Together, they conspired to deliver the magic of the evening.
Critic's Bias: I’m a sucker for acoustic songs that are rocked-up in concert. Mission accomplished.
Overheard in the Crowd: “The Mary Tyler Moore theme so ... AAAAAAIIIIEEE!”
Thing That Happened That I Wish Hadn’t: Packed club, long-haired dude sharing my personal space, a head bang, and boom, long-haired dude’s hair ended up in my mouth. Tasted like dry heaves for a week.