You’re Gonna Make It After All

Bob Mould at Manchester Academy 2 on Sunday night, twenty years after I last saw him play there. Back in 1998 he played almost entirely solo stuff, promoting his then new record The Last Dog And Pony Show, with just a Sugar song held back for the encore. This time around, promoting his current new album Sunshine Rock, he plays songs from the last forty years of playing and making records, from their earliest recordings to his latest. Backed by a high kicking bassist and a drummer engaged in a one man war of attrition with his snare drum Bob hits the stage loud and fast and doesn’t really let up. His guitar/pedals/twin amp set up makes Bob sound like two or three guitarists and it’s loud, really loud, with those crystalline melodies fired off within the sheets of distorted riffs. There are few gaps between the songs, no light show to speak of, no projections or backdrop- just songs from the Bob Mould back catalogue. He opens with 2014 song The War and then blasts straight into Sugar’s A Good Idea, the bass riff on its own for a few seconds before being submerged in Bob’s wall of guitars. Three songs in and we’re into I Apologise off Husker Du’s 1985 New Day Rising. There is then a liberal smattering of songs from Sunshine Rock, Bob’s self-willed optimistic, happy album, an album written in the aftermath of the death of both parents and Husker drummer Grant Hart, songs like Thirty Dozen Roses and Sin King, and highlights from Sugar’s 1992 album Copper Blue (Hoover Dam sounds enormous, bigger than the guitars and keyboards of the album version). People around me are adjusting their earplugs. Husker Du’s 1982 hardcore single In A Free Land has been dusted down and in Trump’s wake sounds no less relevant and no less alive. Bob has been unwell in recent days and on antibiotics for a chest infection, not that you’d guess- Sugar’s If I Can’t Change Your Mind roaring out of the amps, noise plus melodies, punk plus chorsues. He pauses three quarters of the way through to thank us for coming and introduce Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster on bass and drums and then its back to business. Something I Learned Today, one of Husker Du’s most vital songs, is a ferocious blast, spitting fire and piss and from this point, for the final fifteen minutes or so Bob and band go off setlist, launching into one Husker Du song after another, almost a medley- Chartered Trips, their cover of The Mary Tyler Moore theme Love Is All Around Us, a beautiful and raging Celebrated Summer with Bob stretching out the pause into the guitar picking section at the end, finishing with Makes No Sense At All, the single that paved the way for Pixies and Nirvana to name but two. No encore. Lights on. Ears ringing. Home.

Chartered Trips

Rising

This bit between Christmas and New Year is actually the best bit of the festive season, not quite sure exactly what day it is or what you’re supposed to be doing. Into this blur of overdoing it and the general fug that surrounds us I’m going to chuck these random pieces of pop culture. The picture above shows Kirk Douglas, a Christmas film kind of bloke if ever there was one (The Vikings, Paths Of Glory, Spartacus) relaxing in his mid-century modern style home. Kirk recently turned 102 years old.

One of the best presents I got this Christmas was Beastie Boys Book, a book by the two surviving Beastie Boys and their associates that is no ordinary rock autobiography and all the better for it. In one chapter Ad Rock describes his Toyota Corolla and the mixtape that sound-tracked that period of his life in the early 90s. Ad Rock says that The Humpty Dance by Digital Underground is the greatest record since the invention of recorded sound (or something similar) and let’s be fair, it is a classic golden age of hip-hop, crossover dance hit. Based around a Sly and The Family Stone drum sample rapper Humpty Hump (rapper Shock G’s alter ego) brags about his amazing sexual prowess, attained despite his comical appearance, the boring uniformity of other rappers and the Humpty Dance, a loose, anything goes, just-get-down-and-do-it kind of dance as opposed to the drill formation dancing of MC Hammer. Sure, there may be aspects of the song that are a little dated but we could all do with a little bit of doing the humpty hump…

Two apologies- I don’t have an mp3 of The Humpty Dance at the moment so it’s video only and also the video is TV friendly so bleeps out the profanities.

Tim Burgess is a good Twitter follow and always seems like a really nice bloke. He recently tweeted this clip, The Charlatans in October 1990 at an amphitheatre somewhere on the West Coast of the USA playing their debut single Indian Rope- loose limbed, organ led garage shuffle. There’s a really nice breakdown section in this live version…

Indian Rope is a fine song, a sign that from the start this group were not bandwagoneers at all and had a winning way with a tune.

Indian Rope

Lastly, for no reason other than it needed to go somewhere and this post is as good a palce as any, here is Robert Palmer, live at San Diego State University in 1987, the man from Addicted To Love and Some Guys Have All The Luck, covering Husker Du’s New day Rising, the righteous blast of hardcore punk that opened the album of the same name.

Have a moment to let that sink in. And here’s Bob, Grant and Greg cleaning your ears out back in 1985.

New Day Rising

 

New Day Rising

Sometimes with a blog post the music comes first and the picture second and sometimes the picture comes first and the music follows.When I found this picture, about to appear in a new book about women in punk from Sam Knee called Untypical Girls; Styles And Sounds Of The Transatlantic Indie Revolution, I had to post it.

New Day Rising

New Day Rising from 1984, the same year the picture was taken, is the first song on the album of the same name and is a righteous blast of fast, melodic punk rock from three men playing as if their lives depended on it.

Grant Hart

I was deeply saddened yesterday by the news that Grant Hart had died aged 56. It seems a bit silly to be actually saddened by the death of a musician you’ve never even met but there you go. Husker Du are a band whose songs and albums hold a place close to heart. Someone once said that Bob Mould’s songs in Husker Du were more consistently excellent but Grant’s peaks were peakier and it’s easy to roll off a list of Grant Hart songs that completely hit the spot- The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill, Books About UFOs, Green Eyes, Keep Hanging On, Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely, Pink Turns To Blue, Turn On The News, She’s A Woman (And Now He Is A Man), Sorry Somehow, Never Talking To You Again, Flexible Flyer, She Floated Away…

Grant Hart was the hippie in a hardcore band- long hair, love beads, drumming with bare feet- who realised early on that drumming in a hardcore band could end up being pretty boring if that was all he did. So they became much more than a hardcore band, spearheading indie-punk through the 80s, paving the way for others to follow. Grant Hart was a drummer who knew how to write melodies and a songwriter who mainly dealt with the heavy stuff, but could cover it with shards of light. He took much of the blame for the break up of the band but he seemed to be the easy one to blame- he didn’t hide his problems with drugs. His first solo album Intolerance is open about it. His post-Husker Du albums are full of great songs too- 2541, You’re The Reflection Of The Moon On The Water, She Can See The Angels Coming, The Main, My Regrets, Admiral Of The Sea- all come close to his Husker songs and pack an emotional punch. Grant and Bob were estranged for much of the rest of Grant’s life, appearing together only once to play two Du songs. They seem to have become more reconciled recently, communication opening up with a band agreed website to sell merchandise and a box set of their early works coming out in November. Their SST recordings still belong to SST who don’t seem to want to sell. And they should, so something right and proper can be done with the back catalogue.

Last year I wrote a Husker Du ICA for The Vinyl Villain- you can read it here. I named my 10 track compilation after one of Grant’s songs, Keep Hanging On (a song from Flip Your Wig) and used it to close my imaginary record. This is what I said about Keep Hanging On and I stand by every word even more now…

Keep Hanging On- there are so many songs I could or maybe should have closed this album with but this one always hits me right there. From Flip You Wig, buried away towards the end of side 2, the guitars are deliciously distorted, Greg’s bass builds, the drums thump and Grant sings his heart out. His voice sounds like he is just about hanging on but ultimately this is uplifting, life affirming stuff.

Only angels have wings, girl
And poets have all the words
The earth belongs to the two of us
And the sky belongs to the birds

You’ve given me so much happiness
That I’ll wrap up and give you this song
You gotta grab it with both hands
You gotta keep hanging on’

Thank you for all the songs Grant. They mean so much.

Bob Mould put this tribute on his Facebook page yesterday morning-

‘It was the Fall of 1978. I was attending Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. One block from my dormitory was a tiny store called Cheapo Records. There was a PA system set up near the front door blaring punk rock. I went inside and ended up hanging out with the only person in the shop. His name was Grant Hart.

The next nine years of my life was spent side-by-side with Grant. We made amazing music together. We (almost) always agreed on how to present our collective work to the world. When we fought about the details, it was because we both cared. The band was our life. It was an amazing decade.

We stopped working together in January 1988. We went on to solo careers, fronting our own bands, finding different ways to tell our individual stories. We stayed in contact over the next 29 years — sometimes peaceful, sometimes difficult, sometimes through go-betweens. For better or worse, that’s how it was, and occasionally that’s what it is when two people care deeply about everything they built together.
The tragic news of Grant’s passing was not unexpected to me. My deepest condolences and thoughts to Grant’s family, friends, and fans around the world.
Grant Hart was a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician. Everyone touched by his spirit will always remember.
Godspeed, Grant. I miss you. Be with the angels.’

Do The Du

Slipping back to 1985 today after I came across this twenty five minute clip yesterday. Husker Du live at The Stone in San Francisco on March 1st. The film starts towards the end of the set with Diane, Hate Paper Doll and Divide And Conquer (both from then recent release Flip Your Wig) and into an encore of Eight Miles High and Makes No Sense At All. For the final song, a romp through Louie Louie, the Huskers are joined by members of all four support bands- SWA, Saccharine Trust, Minutemen and Meat Puppets. Seeing Husker Du, Minutemen and Meat Puppets on the same bill seems extraordinary now but was standard for the time.

What seems funny about this video now is that it was professionally filmed but is so shonky. The sound is pretty hit and miss, Bob Mould’s guitar inaudible in places against Greg Norton’s bass. Whether that’s the sound at the gig or just what the cameras are picking up is I don’t know.

The group also show how different things were in 1985. Touring without much in the way of label support- SST had never had any money- they more or less just booked some dates, got in a van and off they went. Minutemen’s creed famously was ‘we jam econo’, in other words they cut their costs as far as they could, packed and unpacked their own gear, slept in the van or on fans’ floors, touring as cheaply as possible. Touring connected with them fans and promoted records (which could be bought if SST had got them into the record shops in the town they were playing). These bands have not been anywhere near a stylist or a focus group, there’s no lightshow, no backdrop, no projections, no gap between band and audience- all the things that modern signed bands take for granted. Different times.

This is also a new discovery for me, an unreleased outtake from 1984’s New Day Rising album. Corruscating independent punk from Reagan’s America.

Come Around

I wrote a piece for The Vinyl Villain’s Imaginary Compilation album series, ten Husker Du songs to brighten up your life. It’s here. I also found this, a remastered version of Zen Arcade’s opening song. The Youtube poster who put it up had done the new version himself, brought the bass up and balanced out Spot’s trebly mix. A very good job done.

Something I Learned Today

At around the same time a friend reminded me of Bob’s 90s band Sugar and their 1993 ep Beaster. Having signed to Creation and got some genuine success with Copper Blue they put out Beaster as a follow up The six songs on Beaster were recorded at the same time as Copper Blue but stand out as distinctively different- the guitars are heavier and denser. Very dense. Like other Bob Mould records (like Zen Arcade) Beaster was a kind of concept record and had a lot of religious imagery. Opener Come Around comes around slowly with bright acoustic guitar but then the Les Paul and Marshall stack kicks in, along with Bob’s deliberately difficult to make out vocals.

Come Around

Celebrated Summer

The action and success at the velodrome in Rio over the last few days has been unmissable, edge of the seat stuff. Laura Trott, Becky James, Katy Marchant, Jason Kenny, Bradley Wiggins, Owain Doull, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Katie Archibald, Joanna Rowsell Shand, Elinor Barker, Callum Skinner, Mark Cavendish- all truly something else.

Husker Du’s Celebrated Summer, fifth track on 1985’s New Day Rising, is a peak by a band with many, many peaks. The opening burst of guitar followed by thumping drums and bass raise the hairs on the back of the neck and the 12 string acoustic guitar breakdown in the middle and at the end show Bob Mould wasn’t going to be hemmed in by hardcore’s rules. Breaking out and breaking through. Melody combined with their ferocious energy. The lyrics, as so often with the Huskers, suggest something gone, something lost, the summers of youth- was that your celebrated summer?

A Level results today for my students. More tension and hopefully more celebrations.

Celebrated Summer