Released exactly twenty years ago ‘Copper Blue’ remains the most critically acclaimed work of Bob Mould’s post Hüsker Dü career. As far removed from the buzzsaw hardcore punk of the Minneapolis power trio’s seminal ‘Zen Arcade’ and ‘Land Speed Record’ albums as you could get , ‘Copper Blue’ was a Pop rock album in its most muscular sense. Aggressive, melodic and instantly memorable from the first listen, ‘Copper Blue’ can still be heard in most modern radio-rock today (Dave Grohl wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face if he said there wasn’t a musical debt owed to Sugar in The Foo Fighters most chart-bothering moments). So tonight there is a birthday party happening at the Shepherds Bush Empire as Bob Mould is playing this, the most cherished of his work in its entirety.
Faced with the task of warming up the half full venue are Cleveland, Ohio Pop-Punker’s Cloud Nothings who have been confronted with some critical acclaim of their own as their Steve Albini produced ‘Attack On Memory’ has garnered rave reviews for its dense, noisy barrage of spikey guitars and hooky melodies. Content to only play three songs and flooding the majority of their set with feedback laden jams and Jayson Gerycz’s furious drumming, frontman Dylan Baldi spends most of his set facing his amp, wringing out every last bit of noise from his guitar. It’s a shame that the percentage of the crowd who aren’t familiar with Cloud Nothings are only seeing a small part of what makes the band such an exciting sound and why ‘Attack On Memory’ is being, quite rightly, hailed by some as 2012’s guitar album of choice. Songs like ‘Fall In’ and ‘Stay Useless’ are perfect examples of their snotty Superchunk-meets-Buzzcocks indie-punk while brooding set closer ‘No Future, No Past’ ties itself into all that seemingly self-indulgent feedback.
The Shepherds Bush Empire stage gets stripped down to just a drumkit, two amps and two monitors and any fleeting fear of (the now fifty-two year old) Mould being unable to fill this stage with the energy and charisma that the songs on ‘Copper Blue’ require is immediately banished as the familiar chug of the opening riff to ‘The Act We Act’ is pounded out on that trademark electric-blue Stratocaster of the former Sugar Frontman.
With the ‘Copper Blue’ alumni of Malcolm Travis and Bassist David Barbe not present for this musical look back, bass duties and the filling of drum stool’s fall to Jason Narducy and John Wurster respectively. Narducy (who is also the touring bassist for Guided by Voices mainman Robert Pollard and Merge signed power-poppers Telekinesis) makes more than a worthy replacement for Barbe, his harmonies and mile wide grin backing up Mould’s nasal vocals while Wurster shows why he is valued so much by Superchunk and The Mountain Goats with every drum fill.
And Bob Mould? Tonight he is stunning, bouncing around the stage with vigour and excitement like he wrote these songs the week before and was playing them for the first time. The sea of balding, middle aged men that make up tonight’s sizable moshpit put the younger crowd standing, arms folded, at the back to shame as they relive one of the records that defined their twenties. It’s heart-warming to see an ocean of beaming smiles, pointed fingers and good natured camaraderie that greets each one of ‘Copper Blue’s’ gorgeously, melodic gems. Bob Mould might not have much to say between songs but his face says all of the “thank you’s” and introductions that his mouth doesn’t as each chiming guitar intro is welcomed like the best of friends from the sweaty, euphoric crowd.
Song-wise what do you need to know about ‘Copper Blue’ that you shouldn’t know already? ‘The Act We Act’, ‘Changes’ and ‘Helpless’ are unashamed pop gems even twenty years on, each packing gigantic melodies that would dwarf the Shard. ‘If I Can’t Change Your Mind’ still remains one of the most criminally underrated songs of all time while ‘Man on the Moon’ will sadly, always be a lyrically clumsy let down that is saved by an anthemic chorus and a passionate vocal performance from Mould. In addition to ‘Copper Blue’ the audience are treated to newer material like ‘Star Machine’ which unfortunately is as ham-fisted as ‘Man on the Moon’ and a clutch of newer songs that, while they underwhelm, aren’t a complete lost cause. It is worth remembering that it’s hard to debut anything new live and not have it held up in comparison after the airing of an album like ‘Copper Blue’ in its entirety. After the last notes of the title track to upcoming album ‘Silver Age’ ring out Mould treats the audience to some Hüsker Dü classics for good measure with songs such as ‘I Apologise’ and ‘Celebrated Summer’ sounding as fresh and life affirming as the first time they appeared on ‘New Day Rising’ while ‘Chartered Trips’ shows that the fiery, punk rock side of Bob Mould is still as vibrant as ever. The set ends with a cover of ‘Downed’ by 70’s stadium rockers Cheap Trick and the jaw dropping Dü classic ‘Makes No Sense at All’ after which the smiling, exhausted alternative rock icon gives the thumbs up to a sea of devoted fans. A perfect snapshot ending of Bob Mould, his band and the audience all joined in unison by great songs and a deserved celebration of this ten track birthday boy.
(photos by Anni Timms)