Ironic that the only 2 London dates on my "Spring Dance Card" should not only come less than one week apart at the same Camden venue, but also both feature Minneapolis natives! The ever-prolific US alt-rock legend (not a word I use lightly, but one which fits utterly appropriately astride his broad monolithic shoulders) Bob Mould dropped yet another album earlier this year, his 5th in a productive last 10 years, and this one, "Sunshine Rock", signalled a slight reframing of mood, if not of his trademark strident guitar-driven sheet-metal buzzsaw popcore. Mooted as his happiest and most upbeat for years, it's a glory-box of corking tuneage and buzzing hooky choruses, and I for one couldn't wait to hear it "live". However, the Electric Ballroom was the closest his short UK tour would get to the 'don (no Bristol this time... Boo!), so I'd just have to suck it up and hit the beat route oop the Smoke... again!
Another early departure straight from work, but unfortunately a reverse effect to last Friday; quick and easy run to Heston then a painful crawl into the Bush, parking up later than desired and a hike away from the tube. Bah! No delays on the tube this time, but because this was a later gig I arrived at 7.40, 40 minutes before openers Pabst were due on. Double Bah! When they eventually arrived (a little earlier than scheduled, thankfully), they announced themselves as, "from Berlin" (Bob's current home from home) declaring this their biggest show yet, and opened with a sneering, funky drummer beat-based psych-pop number recalling The Charlatans. Their subsequent set delved into more 60's, swirly and swaggering proto-blues, featuring some neat audience-fooling stop-starts and some drum-dominated, loose limbed effects pedal workouts resembling Dark Star (remember them?). Some dirty grungy noise thrown in the melting pot for good measure, and overall they left a favourable if not lasting impression. They seemed psyched to be here, at least...!
The place filled considerably and felt close to a sell-out; Bob clearly felt the same as, after the lights dimmed from a spot lit red to strobe white, the band took the stage to a kitsch German cabaret number and Bob mouthed, "wow!" to himself before greeting the crowd with a, "how y'all doing?", thence rampaging into opener "The War", the hooky upbeat popcore typical of the new material. The quickfire opening salvo also included forays into his old bands, with Sugar's seething terrace chant "A Good Idea" being followed by a rampant "I Apologise". This was all breath-taking stuff early doors, with Big Cat Bob prowling the stage and delivering his vocals with his throaty Smilodon roar, backed up admirably by his usual Superchunk rhythm section. However, the sound wasn't as loud and overpowering as usual Bob gigs (don't get me wrong, this was actually welcome as it revealed a number of nuances to the material, rather than burying them under swathes of white noise), and the audience was disappointingly static, despite a brilliant early "See A Little Light". However, rampant newie "Sunny Love Song" saw a big bloke smash past me, then another, then another... and by the tumbling thrill-ride of "Thirty Dozen Roses" I was being buffeted about in a wild but joyous moshpit.
A full band version of "Sinners And Their Repentances" seemed a little incongruous compared to ths stripped back, folky “Workbook” version, but normal service was soon restored with a frankly amazing "If I Can't Change Your Mind", a soaring, joyful mosh singalong and easily my set highlight (Bob's too, judging by the huge grin which crossed his snowy-stubbled features). "This is fun, right?" he quipped before a triad of Husker Du numbers to close the set perfectly, culminating in a brilliant, air-punching "New Day Rising", by which time I'd grabbed some barrier and was screaming the hook back at bassist Jason Narducy for all I was worth.
A poignant moment opened the encore, as Bob, solo, delivered a heart-breaking cover of Grant Hart's "Never Talking To You Again" (Hart, Bob’s bandmate in Husker Du being sadly lost some 18 months ago), before the irresistible hook of "Makes No Sense At All" closed out a supreme 1 1/2 hours rock, Bob taking centre stage and basking in the deserved applause afterwards, like a king surveying his domain. Quite right too!
Quick list then I was off and running, or so I thought; back to the car and out of London in short order, but then a sodden M4, a lengthy and confusing diversion around the M25 and A4 in Slough, and 16 miles of 50mph roadworks (!) saw me get home at a red-eyed 1.15. Bah! Not many I'd grit my teeth and do that journey for, especially on a school night, but on tonight’s form, the legend that is Bob Mould is firmly on that list!