I'm going to start off with a story. It is 100% true – more or less. About five years ago I went on a date with a girl whom I met on the Internet. Things had gone reasonably well, and so after two or three dates we found ourselves back at my house, listening to music. Maybe I was attempting to peacock my musical knowledge, maybe I wanted to feel out her tastes, or maybe I was trying to seal the deal the only way I had ever known how, but regardless, the topic of Husker Du arose. My heretofore sleepy date perked up immediately, emphatically insisting that I play the band's cover of "8 Miles High." I let it spin. Loudly, because that's the only way you can listen to it. As it played she told me that the song made her want to break things. At that exact moment I knew I wanted to marry her. 100% true – more or less.
When Kate and I approached the club a bit after 8pm we were surprised to find no line – simply incredulous for show that we had been looking forward to for months. Cautiously I tested the door, and upon swinging it open, we found the room already buzzing, yet not with the typical crowd of college kids, but with those kids' parents. While I didn't expect an all-ages crush (Twitter told me that both the young and the hip were down the street at Kurt Vile), I also didn't expect the average audience member to be in his or her 50s. By why shouldn't they be; the musicians they had come to see certainly were. Clearly I hadn't thought this out.
The night began at 9pm with the Pedaljets, a band formed in Lawrence during the mid-'80s, but dissolved battered and disappointed in the early '90s. During its prime the band performed alongside the flag bearers of the 1980s' American music underground (essentially everyone profiled in the book Our Band Could Be Your Life), yet national recognition never came. Flash forward twenty years and the band has reformed with (mostly) its original members, a new album, and the resolve to get back in the van. As if picking up where it left off, the band would once again spend the evening opening for Bob Mould, reliving a similar Lawrence bill played decades earlier.
The quartet opened a eleven-song, 45-minute set with "Terra Nova" from its new album "What's In Between" (Electric Moth, 2013). The song is a dark, swirling number that erupts in a catchy guitar-soaked chorus. Each song that followed held the mood, bristling with electricity, harkening back to Firehouse or Husker Du, and drawing from the same eerie rural superstition as early REM. "Bulletins" from the band's second album (recently re-released in remastered form) was particularly impressive and toothsome.
Unfortunately the band's lunging and shifting music did not translate to its live show. Frontman Mike Allmayar stayed close to his microphone, quietly and dryly guiding the set forward despite the minor technical difficulties suffered by both drummer Rob Morrow and guitarist Paul Malinowski. Bassist Matt Kesler was similarly static. While certainly not a deal breaker, it is a shame that only the band's music – and not its members – thrashed about nastily.
After a frustrating twenty-minute wait, where technicians, sounds engineers, and road managers buzzed about the small stage purposefully, Bob Mould finally made his appearance. And that's when Kate and I exploded into euphoria.
For 75 blissful minutes Mould ripped through a tight set of songs emphasising the noisiest, most anthemic moments of his long career. Nearly every song was a shot rocketed to the gut, with each delivered on the heels of the last. Everything ran at full tilt with the most buoyant and pretty songs in his catalogue either turbocharged or skipped entirely. This was a seek and destroy mission. Despite generous fans who would have certainly given the musician a pass based on his past accomplishments, Mould had no interest in resting on his laurels.
The set began with an explosive set of songs from Sugar's landmark album Copper Blue. Mould played each song furiously, asking a lot of drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy (both currently touring in Superchunk, but each with accomplished resumes). As Mould sawed the introductory chords of each song he smiled to himself, as if anticipating the quick punches he'd land on this new adversary. Sweat dripped from his nose and quickly soaked through his shirts. He was hungry and ferocious in a way that I've never before. He was also very, very loud.
Mould's voice roared as he raced through "Steam of Hercules," faltering unfortunately in the few nuanced numbers included in the set (such as encore "If I Can't Change Your Mind"). Despite Narducy's solid backing vocals, this wasn't a band built for beauty, nor was it a tour where Mould was interested in highlighting his subtle song craft or witty banter. This was about one pissed off guitar making an exceptional amount of noise while leading a band through some of the best songs punk rock ever saw.
After closing with "Keep Believing" from the band's most recent album (Silver Age Merge Records, 2012), Mould abandoned his guitar to squall in unmanned feedback as he and his band left the stage. While not encore. Despite his quick return to the stage, Mould now seemed disappointed with a crowd that only minutes earlier he seemed genuinely appreciative of. While it's true that there were no stage divers, crowd surfers, nor a mosh pit full of concertgoers absolutely losing their shit (as the set certainly deserved), the middle-aged audience had packed in tightly, and ecstatically given itself to the band's music. Could he expect any more?
Thankfully Mould's disappointment didn't sour an encore consisting of "If I Can't Change Your Mind," "Something I Learned Today," and "In a Free Land." As the band left the stage again, I studied the setlist and the second encore it promised: "Flip Your Wig," "Hate Paper Doll," and "Makes No Sense At All." But that never happened; instead a tech signalled "cut" to the sound engineer, bringing up the house music and lights. We were cheated out of three wonderful Husker Du songs!
Initial disappointment soon gave way to confusion and shame. Had we done something wrong? Did we not live up to our responsibilities as an audience? Thankfully those questions didn't linger as Kate and I began to internalise the past 75 minutes. Upon reflection we realised that we had just spent the evening together, gleefully jumping up and down while the man whose music is so important to us that we asked him to officiate our wedding (he did not reply, btw) delivered a wonderful and intense performance. And they said it would never last.