Bob Mould surprised many with his 2014 album ‘Beauty & Ruin’. Rather than being representative of a sighing slump into middle age it was instead a simultaneously reflective and forward looking rage against the dying of the light. In fact for a late period record from an aging underground rock star no concessions to legend needed to be made – it was a triumph and sat easily among his triumvirate of (much) earlier classics – Husker Du’s ‘Zen Arcade’, Sugar’s ‘Copper Blue’ and 1989 solo beauty ‘Workbook’.
Continuing in that fashion Mould plays to a sold out Village Underground (a gorgeous, awkward warehouse venue with bare brick walls and a sound system to rival AC/DCs) a constantly energised, occasionally astounding set of songs stretching out from this year’s album all the way back to 1983’s ‘Metal Circus’ (a bludgeoning encore version of album opener ‘Real World’).
Exploding into ‘Flip Your Wig’ and following it with the battering ram duo of ‘Hate Paper Doll’ and the ever glorious ‘I Apologize’ the set rampages on at double speed for a full 90 minutes letting up only once, and then only to allow Mould to shatter hearts with the crushing ‘Hardly Getting Over It’ (cleverly segued from new album highlight ‘The War’).
It’s an intense, spine-shuddering experience as the cock-heavy thirty and forty-something audience allow the sonic barrage to gradually shake them out of classic Londonite ambivalence and into an ever growing mosh pit that reacts with glee to each fresh, gnarled opening riff.
Mould’s songs, from ‘Hoover Dam’ to ‘Nemeses Are Laughing’ to ‘The Descent’ are uniformly tuneful, savage, powerful and, vitally, vulnerable. His band tonight, consisting of Superchunk stalwarts Jon Wurster on drums (Is he the best drummer ever ever? Prolly) and Jason Narducy on bass are drilled to emphasise the chugging force and sheer pace of the songs, the live Mould experience being more a joyful rollercoaster ride than his sometimes downhearted, contemplative recordings. Yet none of the magic is lost in transformation. Battering these love songs to a pulp somehow brings out their beauty, draws out their shining glory.
A pair of little kids in box fresh Nirvana tees stand stageside, nodding along to this ancient master as we, the elderly, spill beer and cry out contact lenses in a frenzy of guitar enhanced elation. Mould shrugs off the spray from a flying can and grins. He does that a lot in fact. Looking around at the crowd there’s a sea of smiling faces, some screaming along to every word, some just caught in the pristine perfection of the moment – a master at work, playing his fucking heart out to the delight of his devout followers.
That Bob Mould has been influential is barely worth noting; his song writing talents are inestimable and his importance to rock music can’t be overstated. What needs to be highlighted right here and right now is that his talent is still absolutely vital, his work current, all nostalgia valid and paired with a love of the present and a clear view of the future. Mould is a maestro of soulful, explosive music as spectacular and incendiary as a fireworks show and, equally, strangely touching and humanising.