And now for something completely noisy…! The US alternative rock legend that is Bob Mould, mastermind behind 2 of the finest and fiercest bands of the 80’s/ 90’s in Husker Du and Sugar, and compiler of a breathtakingly impressive body of work in his own right (including 1989’s “Workbook”, still one of my all-time Top Ten albums), playing the noisy rock music at The Fleece! Over the last couple of years, after a dalliance with electronic-tinged stuff, he appears to have rediscovered his alt-rock/ popcore mojo again, with an impressive 2012 release “Silver Age” (parts of which he premiered when we last saw him, after the “Copper Blue” run through of gig 848, a couple of Summers ago) being followed by an even better one in this year’s “Beauty And Ruin”. So I snapped up tickets pronto, disappointed that no-one else felt the need to have their ears sandblasted with some sheet metal rock’n’roll noise, thereby resolving to go on my own!
A bit of pre-gig research (I love setlist.fm!) indicated Bob would be playing a smattering of Husker Du numbers straight out of the blocks, so I made sure of an early departure, to ensure avoiding traffic chaos in the 24-hour jam that Swindon has suddenly turned into, and also to arrive in time to buy an old friend a beer. It worked in one way; I duly joined the queue for doors at 7.30, but the old friend didn‘t show! Luckily (?), this was an early scheduled show, so I didn’t have long to wait for openers Young Knives, on at 8. However, I just flat out didn’t like them; I should have, given some dark, driving rock from this eclectic-looking trio, but their tunes were smothered not only in echoey reverb but also pompous nonsense and a feeling of unentitled self-importance. Clearly a band who take themselves waaay too seriously (viz. the keyboardist being called The House Of Lords!), their best moment was when the singer donned a set of makeshift batwings (which actually looked like umbrellas!) during their final number!
From the ridiculous to the utterly sublime; despite this being a sell-out, I found a clear space, stage left, actually leaning against the monitors, for Bob’s entrance just before 9. He followed his band (bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster) onstage to a rapturous reception, then kicked into a formidable opening triad of 3 Husker Du numbers, “Flip Your Wig”, an incredible “Hate Paper Doll” and “I Apologise” with ferocious intensity. Holy shit, that’s the way to start a set, no mistake!
So that was me, rocking down the front as much as my knees would allow and occasionally bolting in my earplugs to give my eardrums some respite from the almost palpable noise. This was as uncompromising, relentless and powerful a set as I’d been subjected to for many a moon; after a few remarks about tribute bands (“so anyway, we’re Hugh-sker Du!”), Bob launched into a selection from the current “Beauty And Ruin”, the highlight being the phenomenal “I Don’t Know You Anymore”, as irresistibly catchy a number as he’s produced since “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” (which also appeared later on in the set!). Bob was imperious, his low, resonant growl rising above the guitar assault, as Jason wrestled his low-slung bass like Dee Dee Ramone, and Jon hammered the beat with thrilling kinetic Caldes-like energy. The slow-burn denouement to excellent newie “The War” segued into Husker Du classic “Hardly Getting Over It”, providing some respite but delivered almost power-ballad like, sprawling and epic. Then it was back onto the sheet metal noise onslaught, with a soaring “Helpless”, and a later, almost singalong “Hoover Dam” from Sugar’s back catalogue. The embryonic post-hardcore of “In A Free Land” closed an amphetamine-fast set of 21 songs in a breathtakingly swift hour, after which encores of the irresistibly melodic “Makes No Sense At All” and a cover of Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around” (no, not that one…) punctuated the set, at which point Bob took centre stage to bathe in the applause, leaving to lengthy and unrequited encore calls.
As good was to come afterwards though; I needed some time to catch my breath so hung back near the backstage entrance awhile, and my patience was rewarded as I met Bob and the band to get my setlist (handed to me at the set’s climax by Jason, whose monitor I‘d been pounding on throughout, as a thank you “for rocking out!”) signed, and a pic, handshake and a few quick words with the great (and very humble) man, one of my all-time rock icons. “Thanks for your support through the years,” he remarked, my response being, “keep coming back and I’ll keep coming to see you!” My ears are still ringing. Wow. Just…. wow.