This post has been brought to you by the good people at Noise Pop! In addition to putting on some of the finest music events in San Francisco, the kind staffers picked my name out of what I imagine to be a mountain of entries--you can't convince me otherwise--and awarded me with a pair of tickets to see Bob Mould. They not only allowed me to see a longtime favorite, they did it at the exact right time, as my concert calendar would've otherwise been empty for this month. Noise Pop, you have my undying loyalty!
Bob Mould, Swedish American Hall, November 19, 2010: On my way to work Friday morning, I listened to the Fresh Air podcast with Keith Richards, and the interview echoed in my brain throughout the day. Feel free to debate the Rolling Stones' relevance on your own time; the main point that stayed with me is Terry Gross's inquiry about the Rolling Stones' advancing years. In response, Keith mentioned that Count Basie and Duke Ellington were subject to the same barbs--this isn't a new question. (He also slurred some off-hand remark about getting on with it or some such generalization, but you get the point.)
I, for one, appreciated that shot of perspective, and for the first time ever, I kind of appreciate the fact that Keith and crew are still doing their thing, even if you'll never find me at a Stones show. And as a self-involved music fan, I couldn't help but think of its implications for my friends and myself, who are far beyond the teenage and 20-something demographic usually associated with this particular hobby.
On the heels of that interview, tonight's Bob Mould gig set off another round of rumination on music and maturity. I suppose you can levy some of the same complaints lodged against the Rolling Stones to someone like Bob--or anyone in the business for more than, say, five minutes--who's no longer the young punk we first saw in the '80s. I'd venture, though, that Bob has maintained his dignity and integrity, while remaining a vital artist, in a way that few other musicians can claim. Of course, that's my highly biased opinion, but to me, Bob stands as the epitome of a class act in an industry not known for decent role models.
...and if you stuck with me through that soapbox schpiel, you deserve to know how the show went. The evening's performance was billed as a solo acoustic show, and one of those adjectives turned out to be true. Yes, Bob was entirely on his own, but he brought along two guitars: one acoustic and one electric. Despite my adoration of Bob's mellower pieces, I also love when a Bob gig goes to 11; tonight, I didn't have to choose between the two.
I knew we were in for a solid night when, at the top of the set, Bob requested more guitar in his monitors because he felt like singing loud. As a friend mentioned at the end of the show, it's always a good idea to catch Bob at the start of the tour, before his voice is toast. Truer words were never spoken--Bob sounded better than I've heard him in years.
Bob opened with the familiar triumvirate of "See a Little Light," "Hear Me Calling," and "Hoover Dam," and overall, the setlist shaped up to be a well-edited representation of his repertoire, ranging from Husker Du to his more recent releases. Bob's catalog runs so deep that no single setlist could possibly hit every highlight, and I know I can come up with a few left-field requests that may or may not go fulfilled. Still, I can't complain about the evenhanded appraisal of his career and, especially, his trademark unrelenting guitar attack. Bob's foray into dance music is well known at this point, but in this setting, you couldn't ignore the spartan roots that anchor his songs, including newer compositions such as "Circles"--simply fantastic tonight--and "Life and Times."
As mentioned above, Bob allowed himself the choice between electric and acoustic. He started out on acoustic, but another side came out when he donned the electric. Sporting the electric, Bob churned out song after song, in a stream of words, chords, and melodies, often without a break between titles. At times, the guitar seemed like an extension of him, and you could sense how it allows him to speak through fuzz and distortion.
I honestly can't tell you how many times I've seen Bob in concert--I've lost track. But this show made known a side I haven't seen before. Bob was, in a word, talkative. Of course, there were the expected comments about a song's inspiration--for example, "Thumbtack" was written at a time when he was miserable and living in Austin--but Bob held forth on whole range of topics, from the pleasures of living in San Francisco to the Northeastern audience's disbelief of claims public nudity in his new hometown to his partner's shared history with Greg Dulli. Apparently, they worked in the same Cincinnati mall as teenagers. We especially enjoyed learning of Greg's former employer: Camelot Music.
Bob also revealed that Dave Grohl recently called him up to play on the upcoming Foo Fighters record. In Bob's telling, he thrashed out a note or two for Dave, who demanded to know what chord he'd just played. Bob's reply: My chord. Bob made no promises as to whether Dave and gang will keep his contributions, but keep your ears peeled. Also, if you're thinking that call was long overdue, I'm with you! But Bob seemed cool with the acknowledgment, and that's good enough for me.
When you watch certain performers, you have no doubt that they were meant for the stage; other artists, however, take their time in reaching those comfort levels, but if you stick around for the journey, it's hugely rewarding to see them hit their stride. I can think of several examples of the latter, many of whom are my favorite artists. Bob easily qualifies as one of them--on both counts, now that I mention it. I've never seen him more at ease in front of audience, especially on his own and not as part of a band. The most telling moment of the night may have been when he commented matter-of-factly, "I love this song," and launched into the epic "Brasilia Crossed with Trenton." He's in good company on that count.
Bob may have worked his way to a discussion of his upcoming memoirs on his own volition, but we didn't have to wait long, as the audience jogged his memory early on. Amid declarations of "you're hot" from both male and female voices, one person asked flat out, "What have you been up to?" Bob duly reported that he hasn't written any new music; instead, his energies have gone into writing his book, set to be released in June 2011. He laid out some of the history, including his turning down the initial offer about a decade ago. He cited Michael Azerrad as an influence on both his decision and his authorship, and he promised us it'll be a good read. I'd expect no less from him.
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