“I didn’t want to play the songs/That gave people so much hope” sings Bob Mould on ‘The Descent’, the stand-out track from his latest album Star Machine. It sums up one of the contradictions of his fascinating career – a man never quite comfortable with his own achievements. He spent years running from his legacy as a member of seminal 80s hardcore legends Húsker Dú, only to find massive success with his next band, the mighty Sugar. But the Mould of 2013 is a different animal. relaxed and – whisper it – seemingly having fun up there, he’s delving into his unrivalled back catalogue and threatening to blow the fucking roof off this place.
He puts his change in demeanour down to a healthier lifestyle and, perhaps more importantly, simply growing more content with just what he’s done in music. Certainly, compared with the Mould of Sugar days – on stage he was intense to the edge of what might be considered sane, and the songs were drowned in a sludge of angry fuzz – he’s far looser. The sound is sharper but still almost heroically loud, and batters you about the lugholes with a vibrancy that makes the idea that some of them are 30 years old almost laughable.
It’s an interestingly put together set. The opening 5 song salvo is the opening 5 tracks of Copper Blue, in sequence and magnificent. That leads into a selection of tracks from Silver Age, before a couple of later Sugar tracks (the utterly spellbinding ‘Come Around’ and ‘Your Favourite Thing’) before a selection from his first band. When ‘Flip Your Wig’ and ‘I Apologize’ come to the party, the crowd – who were on the verge of a riot anyway – just completely lose their shit. It’s pretty glorious.
He’s always been a wonderful songwriter, gifted with a knack for hooks that Paul McCartney would kill for while equipped with a primal roar that makes his already dark lyrics often seem like they came from the depths of Hell. But with a crowd that’s made up of people who seem him as a sort of alt.God, he’s focused on delivering the sort of show he seemed to recoil from even a decade ago. It’s accessible, intimate and fun. And that last word is key. His amp gives out briefly during ‘Hoover Dam’. He just leads the crowd in a singalong and moves on. That reaction would not, one suspects, have been forthcoming back in the day.
Bob Mould, whether he likes it or not, is an icon. He seems to have accepted it. Everyone benefits, as this truly outstanding show testifies.