This review was written by Dom Tyer
Bob Mould brought his noisy truths to London last week as he delivered a career-spanning solo set at Islington’s art deco Assembly Hall armed only with an electric guitar. The merch table focused on Distortion, his massive boxset retrospective from 1989’s first solo album ‘Workbook’ to ‘Sunshine Rock’ in 2019, but the gig dug even back further to his years with Minnesota punk rock pioneers Hüsker Dü.
Taking the stage as the mercury soared across the capital, the audience might have been wilting but Mould was in energetic form, looking fully recovered from his brush with Covid earlier this year. Now in the midst of one of his longest runs of one-man shows since the nearly nine months he spent flying solo before the 1992 formation of Sugar, his second great power trio, his form seemed fighting fit. In fact, having had the previous night off, he was raring to go.
“Let’s just do this,” he said as he launched into ‘The War’, the standout track from 2014’s ‘Beauty & Ruin’. From there he hit up Hüsker Dü’s melodic SST peak for ‘Flip Your Wig’ and then a spirited sprint through ‘I Apologize’, whose wild acceleration was only just kept in check. “I’m already playing too fast, give me a second,” he asked when it finished, clearly knowing the gig’s 23-song set would need more pacing and less land speed record. What followed no longer relied on the bludgeoning volume of old to hammer home his points. (I first saw him when Sugar came to Manchester and they were so loud I had to wait for snatches of lyrics to work out the songs being played.) This time the solo electric production and the high-ceilinged ballroom gave the songs room to breathe, as Mould delivered a nuanced performance.
Consequently, ‘See A Little Light’ had a real deftness of touch can be absent from his solo gigs, while ‘Sinners And Their Repentances’ and the ‘Workbook’ era ‘Walls In Time’ (“This is an old one I’ve pulled out of the shoebox”) were drone-ladened, the former taking on an almost sitar tone shimmer. But there was still plenty for fans of his trademarked distorted guitar to love, especially the solos on ‘Hoover Dam’ and ‘Stand Guard’, while ‘The Ocean’ from 2020’s ‘Blue Hearts’ was given an extended workout.
Not that it all completely worked. ‘Something I Learned Today’ didn’t quite grab me as it does in a band format and ‘Sunshine Rock’ felt over-reliant on vocal extemporising, too busy and a bit rushed, almost as if Mould were trying to make up for his missing rhythm section. With bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster currently on tour themselves as part of Superchunk, there were several times in the night he gave himself his own Ramones-like 1-2-3-4 count-in that added to the charm of his performance.
Nevertheless, when it worked, it really, really worked. ‘The Descent’ was played as much as for himself as us, and it took on an electrifying sound - bigger that one person alone should be able to create, the sound of multiple melodies colliding into and away from each other.
‘Too Far Down’ also took on new resonance in this format, the acoustic cut from the Hüskers’ ‘Candy Apple Grey’ amped up as Mould really lets go with his yell, putting his heart and soul into a physical performance.
The last time his band was in London, Mould, Narducy and Wurster bludgeoned the audience with their glorious noise. That smash and grab raid on our ears only really let up when the rhythm section paused for a solo Mould take on ‘Never Talking To You Again’, the ‘Zen Arcade’ tune played in tribute to his Hüsker Dü partner Grant Hart, who passed away in 2017. There’s no explicit mention of him at this show, but Hart’s ‘Never Taking To You’ is straightaway followed by a meditative ‘Hardly Getting Over It’. Coincidentally or not, the two songs were the last Mould and Hart played on stage together, reuniting briefly some 18 years ago at a benefit for Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller.
As you might just have noticed, these are busy times on the gig circuit. Every band’s eager to get back to doing what they do best. Add in Covid-forced rescheduling and there’s plenty on offer. As a case in point, the last couple of weeks have seen London gigs from, among others, Descendents and Bad Religion, and then on the same night Mould’s on stage, John Lydon and PiL are appearing in nearby Camden.
But the audience in the Assembly Hall, sporting a light smattering of Hüsker Dü, Sugar and Bob Mould t-shirts, have chosen their punk rock pioneer, and it’s a supportive crowd. Mould’s long had indie rock icon status in the UK and he was at the BBC to take part in a new release roundtable radio show at 6 Music, before heading to the Assembly Hall. With a capacity of almost 900, it’s the largest venue he’s played a full one-man show in. The crowd there were rewarded with what felt like a greatest hits show. Classic Hüsker Dü tunes accounted for a third of the set and there was just a brief nod to his second trio, with a couple of Sugar tunes. But it was the last 10 years that provided the largest part of the evening, proving just how strong his current run of albums from 2012’s ‘Silver Age’ has been.
“We fucking love you,” someone shouts at one point. “Fucking love you too brother,” Mould shoots right back, not missing a beat. Maybe he gets that a lot. Afterall, it is important, yelling so loud.
This review was written by Dom Tyer