Last month, I managed to miss all of SF Sketchfest, due in large part to conflicting engagements. I would've felt doubly bummed if I let Noise Pop -- my other favorite local festival -- pass by. I almost did, actually, but a friend's diligence saved the day. The only U.S. date for Bob Mould's tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Copper Blue didn't hurt either.
Bob Mould, Bottom of the Hill, February 24, 2012: Last fall, I hit a milestone birthday (120, for those playing along at home), which may have made me more susceptible to these zero-year memories. For example, a few weeks earlier, a friend and I remarked that we first met 10 years ago in front of the El Rey, and that same number is approaching with a different group of pals. Similarly, Noise Pop hit its 20-year mark with this round of gigs, as does Copper Blue itself.
The truth is all these reunions and commemorations make me feel old -- er, older. Though I've enjoyed many of them immensely, I've mostly avoided them for the last few years. This is no slight on the music, the artists, or the audience. It's just a tic I've noticed in myself, but on occasion, that reflex can be turned off, such as when one of my musical heroes plays one of my favorite records of all time in its entirety.
It's no exaggeration to say there was a good, long stretch when I listened to Copper Blue at least once a week or maybe even once a day. I still cue it up on a regular basis. It occupies an outsize portion of my gray matter, and I know exactly where certain musical cues occur (well, as much as a nonmusical person can know), how the edits come down, when the backing vocals slip in. I never tire of the instant segue from "A Good Idea" to "Changes" or the expert plunge into "Helpless." It might not be hyperbole to say Copper Blue was my Pet Sounds.
On a more analytical level, Copper Blue was the sound of Bob giving full rein to his pop instincts and carrying us along with him, as well as the perfect melding of his Husker Du lineage and his post-breakup introspection. Good day? Put on Copper Blue! Bad day? Put on Copper Blue! And turn it up while you're at it.
I'd been a fan for a while, but Copper Blue's commercial and critical success meant you could hear Sugar on the radio and see Bob and/or the band on TV. I wasn't a grunge fan, but I'm thankful the movement helped revive Bob's musical standing and reminded many of us why we listened in the first place. All this time on, it was particularly satisfying to see Bob take his place as the Foo Fighters' special guest on Conan last year.
But back to Bottom of the Hill: Bob was once again accompanied by Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster. I've commented on Jon Wurster's ubiquity before, but I'm now convinced Avogadro's number was devised to calculate the sheer total of bands and musicians Jon Wurster will play with over the course of his career. The guy is everywhere! Or at least everywhere worth showing up.
With these two touring veterans behind him, even if they weren't the original members of the band, Bob and crew had no problem tearing through this beloved record. I didn't see Sugar on the Copper Blue tour (commence tear-strewn flashbacks of college transport woes), but I caught subsequent outings, and the overwhelming verdict among friends: Man, they're loud! This point came into play at Bottom of the Hill; the fact that they were offering free earplugs to everyone upon entering should've been a giveaway.
If I had to dredge up a fake complaint about this show, it might be that the finer, more subtle notes from the record, such as the harmonies and acoustic touches, were drowned out by the pure rock attack taking place in front of our eyes. I don't think anyone minded, though. This was a night of celebration; if you wanted your introspective acoustic show, you were in the wrong place. Granted, "If I Can't Change Your Mind," Bob's famously would-be country anthem, lost its folksy lilt, but "The Slim" -- always devastating in any performance -- stood out even more dramatically amid the party.
I'm not sure if I've heard "Fortune Teller" or "Slick" in a live setting before. The former might be the one song from the record I never warmed to, but "Slick" featured a fantastic low-groove bass that put you right back in the spirit. Then, of course, the effervescent, swoon-inducing "Man on the Moon" closed out the record and the first part of the show. Bob said few words to us over the course of the 10 tracks, but he didn't need to. We all knew why we were gathered.
It wasn't quite over. When Bob and the band returned, he explained they'd spent the last month and a half working on a new record that was almost done, then played a couple of tunes off that forthcoming release. They both sounded great, but the second selection, noted as "Descent" on the setlist, was right up Bob's alley, an effortless, catchy mix of a strong melody and killer chords. I can't wait.
Bob remarked they'd close with a "party song," and I racked my mind trying to guess what part of his notoriously downbeat catalog could possibly qualify. "Favorite Thing"? A double-time version of "See a Little Light"? Nope! It was Cheap Trick's "Downed," with a strong showing by Jason on vocals. For the record, I didn't know that tidbit myself, as my Cheap Trick knowledge is several notches shy of inadequate, but a quick search on Twitter answered the question.
Reunions and anniversaries appear to be a mainstay of the touring circuit these days, and odds are I'll eventually hit more of them in the future. I reserve the right to be a hypocrite, especially if it means I can bask in the pleasures of a well-treasured record such as Copper Blue.
» listen, there's music in the air