There’s a 1985 Hüsker Dü live show from London on YouTube that will wind-tunnel your face if you sit through the whole thing. The band’s at the frenzied height of its powers, blasting through jams from New Day Rising and Zen Arcade in a sweat-and-beer-soaked blur. For the generation of Milwaukee rockers who were lucky enough to see the Hüskers in their prime, Bob Mould’s Wednesday night performance at Turner Hall had to have felt like Superman spinning the Earth backwards. For those of us too young to have seen it the first time around…holy shit, you guys. This was a gift.
After a decade-long detour into electronica and dance music, Mould has fully re-embraced the crunch and volume that made him a legend, and he and his backing band (drummer Jon Wurster of Superchunk, Mountain Goats, and The Best Show on WFMU fame; and bassist Jason Narducy of Split Single) threw down the gauntlet early at Turner, slamming right into Hüsker jam “Flip Your Wig” and eventually steering into “Changes” from Sugar’s landmark Copper Blue. It’s a testament to Mould’s excellent recent albums that “Star Machine”—the leadoff track from 2012’s Silver Age—flowed effortlessly from the classics. Whether it was “Come Around” from Sugar’s Beaster EP or a double-shot of barn-burners “Hey Mister Grey” and “Kid With Crooked Face” from the new Beauty & Ruin, Mould was all over the stage, sweating from right to left with fogging glasses and the widest of grins. If there was one misstep in the set, it was an equipment malfunction on the riser, as Wurster struggled with snare drum issues midway through the set. But hey, even with snares coming undone, his kit still sounded better than the drum production on Zen Arcade, so no worries, Jon!
And let’s be honest: while new tracks like “The War” and “Nemeses are Laughing” were instant crowd-pleasers, it was the slew of Sugar-Dü winners that got the dad-rocker set hyped and added an extra spring into Mould’s already hyper-energetic step. This dude is seriously 53? You wouldn’t know it from the way he pulled blue fire out of his strings, barely pausing for a breath as he followed up “I Apologize” into “Divide and Conquer” into “Celebrated Summer” into “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” into “Something I Learned Today” intoareyoufuckingkiddingmeHEWON’T.STOP.BRINGING.THE.HEAT. At the risk of condescending I-was-there scoffs from the 50+ set, this felt as close to Hüsker Dü in 1985 as the rest of us are ever gonna get.
“I know you had a lot of options for your entertainment dollar tonight,” Mould said, referencing his buddies Spoon just across the way at the Riverside, “So thanks for spending it with us.” After an hour and twenty minutes simultaneously back in time and blazing ahead with an indie-punk icon who is showing no signs of slowing down (and is arguably producing work that stands tall next to anything he’s ever done), it’s fair to say those in attendance had no doubt that they made the right choice.
Cymbals Eat Guitars were the ultimate opening act, warming up the crowd with their distinctly competent, occasionally askew indie-rock. They’re the “Gentleman’s C” of support acts—they’re just entertaining enough while posing no threat whatsoever to the headliner. Guitarist Joseph D’Agostino’s alternating falsetto and cuddly growl complimented Brian Hamilton’s keyboard lines while his sometimes-bendy guitar work served to hold the crowd’s attention just fine. The band’s sedate, standstill energy finally picked up during their closing noise-freakout number, but after the 80-minute fury that was the headlining act, it was evident that they could stand to learn a few things from the greybeard that was running circles around his younger tourmates.