Live Review: Bob Mould Concert at Millennium Park
By Greg Kot
Bob Mould’s at that age when he can write a song like “Hey Mr. Grey” with its command to “get off my lawn!” and have more in common with the curmudgeon yelling from the doorstep instead of the punk-rock kid in the front yard.
And yet as performed by the 53-year-old indie rocker Monday in Millennium Park, the song sounded like a riot was breaking out, drum sticks and guitar chords crashing down on every shouted syllable.
The rainy skies cleared just in time for Mould’s headlining appearance at Pritzker Pavilion, a tony venue for what was essentially a punk-rock show: a three-piece band tightly bunched on a stage big enough to accommodate an orchestra. Mould, drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy battered out two- and three-minute songs with barely a pause between. Several thousand fans flocked to the front of the pavilion or spread out on blankets across the lawn. The trio spanned the singer’s career, which has taken another upward turn thanks to two powderkeg albums, “Silver Age” (2012) and the recent “Beauty & Ruin,” his strongest work since the ‘90s.
The 80-minute, 23-song concert reaffirmed Mould’s place in rock history. He’s one of several ‘80s indie veterans who bridged the gap between punk’s bravado and the alternative-rock commercialism of the ‘90s. Mould’s great Minneapolis band, Husker Du, didn’t sell nearly as many records as Nirvana, the Foo Fighters or the Pixies, among others, but profoundly influenced all of them.
But Mould wasn’t sitting on any laurels, especially his own. He didn’t bother to gulp water or reach for a towel. He just played like he was at the head of a freight train intent on barreling through a brick wall at the end of the track. His professorial glasses fogged over as he neared the finish line, the songs accelerating into a blur that matched the hardcore intensity of Husker Du’s “Something I Learned Today” and “Kid With Crooked Face.”
With his salt-and-pepper beard and burly physique, Mould bounced around the stage like an agitated bear, swinging his guitar from just above his right knee. The image of brute force disguised the skill, as the guitarist created tones and overtones and then played lead lines over them. Close your eyes and it seemed as though several guitars were being playing at once. This sheets-of-sound density suited songs that compressed taut melodies into ever-tighter spaces. Mould couldn’t suppress several smiles as he leaned into Wurster and Narducy, who answered each challenge.
Narducy added strong counterpoint vocals, underlining the melodies that sprouted from the mayhem. The line stretching through songs from Mould’s previous incarnations with Husker Du (“Makes No Sense at All”), Sugar (“A Good Idea”) and his solo albums (“Star Machine,” “I Don’t Know You Anymore”) is the way they extract beauty from the din.
If the concert lacked anything, it was a few more moments that varied the texture and tempo. Mould had the hammer down most of the way. But when he let up, the show found its emotional center. As “The War” receded over a final, lingering guitar chord, Mould muttered, “Don’t give up and don’t give in.” The feedback slipped into Husker Du’s “Hardly Getting Over It,” a mourning song accented by Wurster’s delicate cymbal work and Narducy’s haunting harmonies. After plunging into that dark place, it was perhaps understandable that Mould was in no mood to look back.
1 The Act We Act (Sugar)
2 A Good Idea (Sugar)
3 Changes (Sugar)
4 Star Machine
5 The Descent
6 Little Glass Pill
7 I Don’t Know You Anymore
8 Kid With Crooked Face
9 Nemeses are Laughing
10 The War
11 Hardly Getting Over It (Husker Du)
12 Helpless (Sugar)
13 Keep Believing
15 Hey Mr. Grey
16 If I Can’t Change Your Mind (Sugar)
17 Come Around (Sugar)
18 Tomorrow Morning
19 Something I Learned Today (Husker Du)
20 Chartered Trips (Husker Du)
21 Fix It
22 Flip Your Wig (Husker Du)
23 Makes No Sense At All (Husker Du)