Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Hardly Getting Over It

I frequently contemplate attending shows in Los Angeles. Yet until last night I'd only done it once, seeing Sonic Youth at the El Rey in August, 2002. I thought about seeing Bloc Party earlier this year when we were camping near San Diego, but decided the logistics would be too difficult. I came close to making the trip from Tucson for the Dinosaur Jr. reunion, but again concluded that it might not be worth the effort and expense. When I saw that Bob Mould was finishing his first full-blown rock tour in years at the El Rey, however, I knew I had to find a way. I'm a huge fan of the music he has made in Hüsker Dü, Sugar, and as a solo artist. More than that, though, he's an astonishing performer. Even on a bad night, he gives you your money's worth. On a good one -- and last night was a very, very good one -- he makes you feel like you should have paid double.

I was hoping to see the show with my friend Eric, who is presently living in Los Angeles. He is a huge fan of Bob's music too, as he details in this piece he wrote about it last spring. Back in November, 2001 he and I had tickets to see Mould up in Phoenix for the tour accompanying his electronica album Modulate, but it was cancelled. Since Mould may never come back to Arizona again, I thought, "Perfect. Eric and I can both see him in L.A.!" Sadly, though, Eric was out of town yesterday. I passed the extra ticket I'd purchased on to elizabeg who, along with yourbestfiend, had already shown me plenty of UCLA Bruin hospitality. I wasn't sure whether she'd like the concert, since her tastes tend to run to somewhat slower music, but she did. And it was great seeing Mould with someone who actually knows something about the theory of music, since she could provide technical explanations for aspects of it that I'm forced to describe with metaphors.

As for the show itself, Mould played a number of songs off Sugar's Copper Blue, which remains his most commercially successful release. He played most of his new album Body of Song, revealing in the process that the dance-culture moments dotted throughout it are a set of clothes he's happy to take off in a live setting. In the process, he convinced me that Body of Song is considerably stronger than I'd initially thought. He played "See a Little Light" off his first solo album Workbook, which has grown into my favorite album of his, not least because it's the record I was listening to when I met Kim. I love how the verse portion of that song keeps squiggling in new directions instead of repeating the same few bars. Finally, he played quite a few Hüsker Dü songs, including "Hardly Getting Over It."

For years, Mould would only play songs from his most famous project on really good nights and even then it would only be one or two of them and often in new arrangements. I vividly recall the moment when he got out his electric guitar to play an encore on a solo acoustic tour back between Sugar's two albums and proceeded to do a slightly slowed down version of "Makes No Sense At All." I was so happy to hear just one electrified Hüsker Dü song that night. Yesterday, though, I heard many of my favorites in their "natural" setting, including "Makes No Sense At All," which closed off the second and final encore, "I Apologize," and my personal favorite, Zen Arcade's "Chartered Trips." They were all sublime. And, though I regretted the absence of a pit, I bounced up and down and sideways long and hard enough to give myself the thick coating of sweat that marks a great punk show.

It was even Mould's birthday last night. The other members of the band led the crowd in a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" and his roadie brought out a cake festooned with an inexplicable -- fifteen? -- number of candles. The smile it brought to his face was a thing of beauty. Indeed, Mould smiled frequently throughout the concert, which made everyone happy but occasioned my only regret of the evening. You see, while I'm glad that he was having a great time, I also know that the only Bob Mould show that could be better than last night's is one where he's having a great night from a technical standpoint but is still plagued by demons that he can only exorcise through performing. The solo acoustic concert I mentioned earlier and the one he played for San Francisco's Noise Pop festival shortly before we moved were that sort of show.

So was the first Mould concert I attended back on October 28th, 1989, when he opening for the Pixies. I had a ticket for tpratt, currently attending UC Santa Cruz, for that concert, but the Loma Prieta earthquake made it impossible for him to come up. I took my friend Priscilla instead. And two days later my friend Leanne and I ran into her and her friend Kim, whom I'd heard so much about, at Spats. I have had many students at the U of A who are blown away when I tell them I saw the Pixies on the Doolittle tour. But the truth is that, while I enjoyed seeing them, their opening act made them seem pretty "lite."

Mould only played songs from Workbook during the main set that night, but made them sound way more savage than they do on the album, despite the presence of live cello. And then he concluded it by playing a fifteen-minute version of the record's final, furious track, "Whichever Way the Wind Blows," during which he ended up writhing around on his back in what seemed to be an agony all too real. The audience demanded an encore, though opening acts rarely give them. Mould eventually came out and launched into an astonishingly good cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl." It was mind-blowing. Thus, although last night's show was superb, it can't quite compare to that concert in 1989 or the two solo acoustic shows I saw in the 1990s. But it came very close. Now my ears are ringing, my voice is raspy, and I want to sleep for several more hours. All is right with the world.

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