I am always impressed by the level of energy Bob Mould brings to his live shows. I’ve seen him three times, and, each time, he’s been a livewire performer, as he was at a recent sold-out show at The Atlantis in DC. He may be decades removed from fronting Hüsker Dü, but he still brings the fire and the fury, along with searing electric rock.
A native of the Adirondacks region in upstate New York, Mould got his start as a musician after moving to the Twin Cities to attend Macalester College. Bassist Greg Norton was a fellow student, and Bob met drummer Grant Hart at the record store where Grant worked. If I have the story right, Bob got to know Grant as his weed guy. A good weed guy is not to be underestimated.
As one of the bands that created the transition from punk to alternative rock, Hüsker Dü’s influence is widely felt. Some of it was through their local scene, to other Twin Cities bands like the Replacements, and to other midwestern bands, like Illinois alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo. If Bob had done nothing other than his work with Hüsker Dü, he would be an important figure in music.
But Bob has done so much more than his work with Hüsker Dü, consistently releasing great records for four decades. In the ’90s, he fronted the band Sugar, which met with popular success for songs like “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” In his solo work, beginning with 1989’s Workbook, he’s moved beyond just being a punk-rocker to embrace singer/songwriter styles, while never abandoning his core as someone who rocks hard.
In a fascinating career that’s taken many twists and turns, Bob has gone to some unusual places. A lifelong wrestling fan (there are definitely pictures circulating advising his fandom on t-shirts), he went to work on the creative team for the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling (WCW) around the turn of the century. For a period following 1998’s Last Dog and Pony Show, he made several records where he experimented with electronic music. And for seven years, Bob lived in the District. If you’re interested in the fascinating details of his life and times, I highly recommend seeking out his memoir, See A Little Light.
Bob always gets an enthusiastic audience here in DC, and he always delivers for us. There’s not a lot of fat on his performance: minimal stage banter, with the focus on the music. He started with a song from 2014’s Beauty & Ruin, “The War,” followed by two Hüsker Dü numbers, “Flip Your Wig” and “I Apologize,” then the first of the Sugar numbers, “Hoover Dam.” (Every time I hear the phrase “Hoover Dam,” I think about the bit from Beavis & Butthead, where one of them asks, “Is it a God dam?”) That was the the first of two Sugar songs, the other being the aforementioned, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.”
Watch Bob Mould perform “Hoover Dam” live on KEXP via YouTube:
There were several more Hüsker Dü songs in the set: “No Reservations,” “Too Far Down,” “Celebrated Summer,” “Something I Learned Today,” “Chartered Trips,” “Hate Paper Doll,” and “Makes No Sense At All,” which he finished with.
While there were a lot of old favorites in Friday night’s set, there was plenty of recent work as well, including three songs from his most recent album, the highly political 2019 LP Blue Hearts: “Siberian Butterfly,” “Next Generation,” and “Forecast of Rain.” Always in motion, Bob’s set included three new, unreleased songs: “Breathing Room,” “Hard To Get,” and “When Your Heart Is Broken.” Other songs in the set included “I’m Sorry, Baby, but You Can’t Stand in My Light Any More,” “The Descent,” “Voices in My Head,” “Moving Trucks,” and “See A Little Light.”
Opening act Jason Narducy has had a long career in music, including playing in Mould’s three-piece band. Playing solo acoustic, he entertained the crowd with some great songs and excellent racounteuring. Jason went to college nearby, in Baltimore, at Towson University, and shared his memories of going to the old 9:30 with his then girlfriend — now wife — who was pregnant with their oldest daughter. He’s been around long enough that he played the very same guitar at the club, “Which either says a lot about the durability of this guitar or how little I care about care.”
The first song of Jason’s that I caught was “Bitten By The Sound,” which he wrote after taking his younger daughter, who’s in 7th grade, to Riot Fest, where she got to meet the lead singer of Destroy Boys, who she loves. Next up was “Monolith;” Jason said it’s the first time he’s played this version of the song. “Holiday” is a song from an old band of his, “Verbo.” Introducing “Untried Love,” he talked about the late Chicago DJ Lynn Bremer, who was a pillar of the musical community in Chicago, where he lives.
I didn’t get the title of the song, but one of his tunes was written about the experience of holding his first grandchild. He was brought in to play guitar for Sunny Day Real Estate, and he had the off nights in Philadelphia, where his daughter lives. He ended with a Split Spingles song, “Nothing You Can Do To End This Love.”
Bob is always great, and as I’ve already said, a dynamic, energetic performer. Jason’s more laidback, acoustic set provided a nice contrast. This was my first time in the Atlantis, which is a great space and, with a capacity of 450, provides a much-needed venue for some of the acts that can’t fill IMP’s larger venues, like the 9:30 Club.
Here are some photos of Jason Narducy opening Bob Mould at The Atlantis on Oct. 4, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.
Here are some photos of Bob Mould headlining The Atlantis on Oct. 4, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.