(Photos: Ksenia Novikova/Aktiv Oslo)
Now is the time share a dirty little secret. Until about a month before Bob Mould’s recent Copper Blue/Silver Age tour, I had never listened to the former before. Yes, I graduated high school in the mid-‘90s and yes, most of my friends have revered Mould’s debut under the moniker Sugar for a good portion of my life. But shit slips through the cracks. I have two Hüsker Dü records, but I was an R.E.M. guy growing up. Automatic for the People was my jam. I didn’t get into the harder stuff until later.
Why the fuck did I wait so long? On the first listen, Copper Blue felt akin to cracking up the yearbook, forgetting how old you have really gotten and remembering the stale smell of the classroom, the bundled emotions of adolescence and the faux freedom of driving around at night with friends, going nowhere in particular. Mould’s growl was still there, but for Sugar he injected a more radio-friendly element that is absent on the Hüsker releases. Under the fuzz and mayhem he had hidden beauty.
Brain fully equipped with the record, but lacking the lived-in years of love, I got to the Wonder early, enjoying local band the Thermals for the umpteenth time, their power pop a great warm-up for Mr. Mould. As the audience filed in, I noticed they all had one thing in common: they were all men. A collection of baldies, beardos, beers and beer-bellies pushed to the front of the stage, many just a few years away from joining the AARP. But that’s just fine.
Then Mould, along with bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster, took the stage. Clad in a plaid shirt and sporting librarian glasses, Mould said nothing and launched immediately into “The Act We Act” and then we heard Copper Blue in its entirety.
Anyone expecting a slavish reproduction of the record would likely be disappointed at times during the show. Mould played with tempos, trotting fast and loud incarnations of many songs, sometimes singing songs such as “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” in a different octave. By the time he made it to “Changes,” Mould was perspiring profusely, black sheets of the stuff flying off of him each time he swung his head, bathing the adoring crowd at his feet below while he wailed on his blue Stratocaster.
If Wurster missed some of the fills we love on the record, Narducy was MVP of the evening with his rock star moves that stood up to Mould’s presence on the stage. When the crowd exploded into applause for “Changes” the band appeared to feed off the energy and played harder and faster. One of my favorite moments was a slower one, however. One stripped-down version of “The Slim,” Mould’s voice had a change to emerge from the burble of the feedback and the song became slower, more sinister.
Mould and friends whipped through Copper Blue in 45 minutes and then played songs from new record Silver Age such as “Star Machine,” “The Descent” and “Round the City Square.” Though excellent in their own right, the new stuff couldn’t stand up to the power of the Copper Blue offering and provided a lull in the set until Mould roared back with Hüsker trio “Could You Be the One?,” “I Apologize” and “Chartered Trips” before polishing off the set with new song “Keep Believing.”
If those Hüsker got the crowd working up, awakening some mosh memory in aging brains, the encore of “Celebrated Summer” and “Makes No Sense At All” brought the thunder. Men thrashed about as Mould, Narducy and Wurster went into full-assault mode, bringing the heavy and capping off this sweat-soaked evening. If 70 minutes seemed a little skimpy for a setlist, the passion made up for it. Quality over my quantity, someone once said.