Last night could’ve been a bust.
Bob Mould came to Athens’s Georgia Theatre on a Thursday night with his crackerjack rhythm section—Jon Wurster on drums, Jason Narducy on bass—and nobody showed up. Well, not nobody. But the Georgia Theatre can hold roughly a thousand folks, and only about 150 attended this gig. So, it was considerably undersold. We were mostly achy graybeards and thin-hairs, with my friend (at age 31) being among the youngest there by a good decade. The night was chilly, the air thick with the campfire smoke that seemed good until we realized and kept realizing that the smoke came from continual wildfires blooming and raging an hour north of us in the mountains near western North Carolina. Those of us who shuffled into the venue were melancholy, shell-shocked, numb with fear, wearied with anguish over the presidential election. The balcony section was curtained off entirely, and the floor never looked completely packed, even by mid-set.
Bob & Co., though, didn’t give a shit. At 9:40pm, they strode onstage fast—the house lights were still on—and slung their instruments into their hands and took one quick look into each other’s eyes and Wurster clacked his drumsticks one, two, three, and off they went on a 70-minute roar into the stratosphere. Tight, fast, loud, and focused, Mould and Narducy swirled across the stage during instrumental breaks, Narducy high-kicking on occasion, and Mould bearing down on his axe while lurching purposely. Wurster mouthed the words as he pounded away on the drums.
As usual, Bob thought of the show in terms of themed packets, starting with a one-two-three punch of Hüsker Dü classics—“Flip Your Wig,” “Hate Paper Doll,” and “I Apologize”—and then vaulted headlong into two Sugar songs (“A Good Idea” and “Changes,” which come back-to-back on 1992’s Copper Blue). The band didn’t pause for breath (or applause) between songs, or even slow down during the whole set, so the effect was like being in a melodic wind tunnel, one song blurring into the next. I liked the effect, as it allowed for a sonic continuity between tunes that were sometimes written and recorded 20 years apart from each other. The band played songs from Bob’s most recent three records—Patch the Sky (2016), Beauty & Ruin (2014), and the astonishing Silver Age (2012)—as well as from Beaster (“Come Around,” from 1992). A lot of Hüsker Dü songs got airplay, sure, but so did Patch the Sky. Though the band rarely veered into Bob’s late-1990s/early-2000s electronica period, all other aspects of the man’s career surged through the house. The whole set felt of a single piece, in a way that wouldn’t have been true if I had listened to the studio versions, in a Spotify playlist. It all made sense together.
But of course I’d think that, being a Bob Mould fan for more than half my life. During “You Say You” (from Patch the Sky), I wondered what someone relatively unfamiliar with Mould might think of this concert. And there was my friend, who to my knowledge does not own a Bob Mould record and has heard Hüsker Dü mostly on YouTube, and she was flailing away, headbanging and pumping fists into the air, probably imagining Donald Trump on the receiving end. I felt better. Bob probably imagined the Orange One getting pummeled, too, which might be why there were no ballads on this set, and why “In a Free Land” got played but not “New Day Rising” or “See A Little Light,” why the only song that Bob introduced properly was Patch the Sky’s “Hold On,” why we all sang along during a ferocious rendition of the Mary Tyler Moore Show’s theme (“We’re gonna make it after allllllll!!!!!”) instead of the Hüskers’ “Divide and Conquer.” The mood in the house could have been somber, given everything and given that Mould’s songs are rarely exactly sunny, but the man was smiling throughout, bounding around the stage like a drunken monkey. His joy is contagious, cathartic, and Lord did we need it.