“Y’all are one of those shut up and play crowds, huh?”
It’s midway through Bob Mould’s set Turf Club, and the crowd is absorbing ever second of his unmistakable voice and that guitar tone made even more blistering by the lack of any other performers to ground it, absorbing it with the passion that Minnesotans give only to local heroes and legends -- especially those who’ve long since moved away.
We’re in the long shadow of the college that brought Mould to the Twin Cities in the first place and the now-levelled record store on Grand Avenue where he once worked. The crowd’s deep but not overcrowded, with folks of the middle-aged to aging hipster variety, the men sporting some combo of beards, glasses, and bald heads, all having at least one but no more than three tap beers. It looks like the Eagle, but (presumably) straighter. On a Monday night with the headliner going on at 9 p.m., rowdy we ain’t. We’re all doing the standing still with passionate enthusiasm that non-Minnesotans mistake for merely polite, but Bob just gets us.
“People don’t believe me about Minnesota Nice,” he says, “but I’ve been having the greatest time since I got here.”
Kyle Werstein from Fury Things opened this first of three sold-out “solo electric” shows with a solid mix of originals, covers, and comments that he’s ill-accustomed to introducing himself rather than his band from stage. “So tonight I guess I’m just Kyle,” he said, getting a lively cheer from an audience probably more familiar with the covers he played -- Dinosaur Jr. and Weakerthans material, most notably -- than his originals. Opening for someone who’s obviously a huge influence on you musically is tough work, but Werstein seemed up for the challenge, and the crowd responded in a way I can only describe as “entirely appropriately.” That is to say, we listened, cheered, and didn’t talk during songs.
But it was Mould everyone was there for, and he delivered the excellence that’s captured us since 1979. Pop melodies layered over a guitar sound that hasn’t changed much since the first Husker Du record, fuzzed out like the moment before a car wreck. During a roughly 90-minute set he ran the gamut of new to old solo and Sugar output, unsurprisingly light on Husker Du material, but captivating for the whole crowd. There was little banter save a couple pointed political comments about cake, bombs, and getting forced to leave the country (which left the crowd shifting uncomfortably like they were trying to avoid a fight over Thanksgiving dinner) and some talk of hot dish, which went over way better.
Sure, some songs felt the lack of a full band more than others, especially the more riff-heavy. (Sans bass and drums, you can’t miss his appreciation for Blue Oyster Cult in songs like “Daddy’s Favorite” and “Black Confetti.”) But what makes Mould a great pop songwriter is that his music -- even from Husker Du’s more hardcore days -- can be stripped down and laid bare and still touch a crowd.
From solo songs as disparate as “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” “You Say You,” and “Voices In My Head,” to classic Sugar singles like “Hoover Dam” (the set opener) and “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” all run at classic Du-era levels of distortion (“This amp is for sale and it’s a steal”), Bob’s set defined the idea that it’s the songwriting, not the production, that counts.
Even so, it was his traditional cover of "Love Is All Around" that stood out as touching. A little slow, a little somber in the face of Mary Tyler Moore’s death, it was as if he and the crowd could come together knowing that it’s been a long ride together and we’re all lucky to still be here.
The crowd: Did I mention that I’ve been going to shows with these people for the better part of 25 years and I was the young’un then? One woman was wearing an Escape-era Journey t-shirt and I think it was an original.
Overheard in the crowd: I stepped outside for a moment and a woman smoking walked up to me and said, “Is it always this screechy? Like, is that the sound they’re going for in there?” Bob’s still got it!
Critic's bias: I’m the guy who loved Husker Du far more than the Replacements and think Bob’s foray into electronic music was profoundly ill-advised, so this stripped-down, minimal experience was near perfect.
Random notebook dump: As a big dude with really flat feet, I was very concerned about Kyle Werstein overpronating in those Adidas Sambas.