MILWAUKEE -- Though he swears this is it for his electric days, Bob Mould is
not going gently into that acoustic night.
The ex-Hüsker Dü rocker, who built his reputation on high-energy pop-rock
tunes, but has said he is giving up touring with an electric band after his current outing,
fittingly opened one of his last plugged-in sets at the Rave on Tuesday night with
Trucks" (RealAudio excerpt). It is a new song about leaving the past behind and
But by the time he finished 80 minutes later, hunched over the microphone and
screaming at the end of "Hanging Tree," it was clear to the 1,000 or so in attendance that
he still had a lot of electricity surging within his aging bones.
It was probably only a matter of time until one of the icons of modern rock decided to
embark on a "farewell" tour. But unlike the Who and Billy Joel, two veteran acts who
already have undertaken at least one farewell tour (the Who have about five under their
belts), it's not like Mould is out to make his retirement fortune on this outing.
Instead, the 37-year-old solo artist and former frontman of punk-pop legends
Hüsker Dü and Sugar seems as if he's intent upon proving that he can still
harness rock 'n' roll fury with more conviction and musical dynamics than the current
crop of guitar-wielding youth.
Mould took the stage in the requisite garb -- oversized T-shirt, jeans and sneakers -- and
his receding hairline was the only indication that he's been doing this for nearly 20
years. Though not as trim as during his 1989 Workbook era, he still looks fitter
than he did during his tenure with Hüsker Dü, when one writer described him
as "half man, half lager."
By the time he tore into "Stand Guard," from his 1990 album Black Sheets of Rain,
Mould was drenched in sweat from a self-generated heat brought on by bouncing
around the stage with his Stratocaster. For the most part, he and his three-piece backing
band stayed away from his more pensive material, with the notable exception of
"Anymore Time Between," which built slowly from Jim Wilson's bass line to a driving,
Mould was unusually expressive, taking his hands off his guitar and gesturing near the
microphone to emphasize the song's lyrics.
Though he vows to continue playing acoustic shows, Mould says he's tired of being
away from home for months at a time, playing night after night, and the physical toll it
takes on him. One audience member said after the show that he felt like he'd been
smacked around; if the brutally loud set was half as taxing on Mould, it's easy to see why
he's moving on to other musical outlets.
Mould stuck mostly to material from his two most recent solo albums, but crowd response
to tunes from the new The Last Dog and Pony Show was mixed.
Don Adams, a fan since he bought a Hüsker Dü cassette in 1983, said he
was disappointed with the new material, but that the chance to see Mould on his last
electric go-round was too good to pass up. But Adams' friend, Brian Karolewicz, thinks
the new stuff is right in line with everything else Mould has done.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's consistent with his writing," Karolewicz said. "I'll stick with
it, no matter what it sounds like."
The intensity of the set grew steadily with each song. It also seemed to grow louder, but it
was a controlled fury. On "Eternally Fried," feedback overtones seemed to hang above
the crowd as the band worked through the dynamics of the song.
By the time he opened his only encore with "Disappointed," Mould looked absolutely
demonic, and the distorted guitar feedback on "Hanging Tree" was majestic, even
through a muddy sound mix.
Mould's fans are a loyal bunch, mostly white guys in their 30s who hung on his every
word and gesture, rather than moving to the music. Some had been following tour
reports on the Internet and knew what to expect. Reports from Mould's show on Monday
at First Avenue in Minneapolis, Hüsker Dü's old home territory, were ecstatic,
and fan Todd Tower said he was worried Milwaukee "would get the stopover show. But it
Jeff Runnels, a 42-year-old fan who remembers seeing Hüsker Dü play
house parties in Madison, Wis., in the early 1980s, thought this show was better than the
previous night's, but didn't live up to Mould's previous tours. "I miss the interplay
between him and another great songwriter," he said, referring to Grant Hart, Mould's
former partner in Hüsker Dü.
Runnels seemed to be in the minority, though, and the crowd responded enthusiastically
as Mould bowed politely and left the stage. After the show, Mould talked to fans in the
parking lot for a good half an hour.
He said that getting out and performing with this kind of intensity actually reinforces his
decision to give up these shows.
"I'm getting too old," he laughed.
But with the way he performed Tuesday night, you'd never know it.