Seeing Bob Mould’s name on the marquee at the Bluebird Theater in Denver isn’t exactly like seeing Jimmy Hoffa’s. After all, he has released two albums in the past two years, and is reportedly working on a memoir with well-regarded music writer Michael Azerrad.
But for some reason, it seems that way.
Saturday night, Mould played a quick, low-key set for a sold-out crowd that I imagine consisted entirely of fans who have been acolytes of his since at least the days of Sugar (the early ’90s power-pop band that yielded his most popular songs) or perhaps Hüsker Dü (which, like genre pioneers such as the Velvet Underground or Big Star, spawned more bands than memorable songs).
“Let’s just get right to it,” Mould said as he took the stage alone, strapping on a slim-body acoustic/electric guitar. “I’ll talk later.”
He didn’t, but I doubt anyone lusted for the conversation. Mould slashed right into “Wishing Well,” the first non-instrumental from his first solo album, “Workbook,” peppering the song with as many “oh yeah’s” and “whoa’s” as actual lyrical words, giving it the sensation of a bloodletting. From there he went into “Hear Me Calling,” “Hoover Dam” and “See a Little Light,” each from his post-Hüsker Dü “high period.” It was the sort of crowd that cheered for a song before its first chord, during the pre-song tunings that foreshadowed the selection.
Most of the set stuck to songs of this ilk, which he played with his trademark generalized fury and vengeance — his voice was strong and hellacious as ever. He primarily dodged songs from “Modulate” and “Body of Song,” whose alien electronic infusions never caught on with his crowd. Though Mould is openly gay and writes songs with varying degrees of relationship content, sexuality seems beside the point: he deals with the anxiety and the wreckage.
Thematically, Bob Mould is best heard touring alone. But so much of Mould’s appeal on recordings is based on a propulsive wall of sound that’s best achieved by a full band. From an economic standpoint, it’s natural that Mould would tour alone, especially since his commercial appeal has plateaued and the costs of a touring band would outstrip any marginal revenue generated. ($20 was an outstanding ticket price to pay for such a legend, though: the man in the seat beside me said, “I would have paid $100.”)
But the spectacle of Mould alone on stage, grinding out songs that have long since ripened, felt a bit sad — as did the fact that his main set lasted just over an hour. After the set’s close of “Makes No Sense At All,” a Hüsker Dü classic, one did not feel jubilance, enlightenment, or even exhaustion. There was only the feeling that it was the end.
Follow Reverb on Twitter! Here!
Jeremy Simon is a Lafayette freelance writer and regular contributor to Reverb.