Bob Mould Band - “I Apologize” & “Chartered Trips” (Circle of Friends DVD)
I finished Mould’s memoir, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, last night. As Robert Christgau writes in his review, Mould has some trouble getting outside of his head and bringing other people in his story to life, but I find that pretty consistent with the way Mould has always approached his songwriting; his gift has never been for empathy so much as unfiltered expression and, at times, judgment.
That said, his life story thus far makes for a pretty compelling narrative with or without well-drawn supporting characters. Even disregarding Mould’s distinction as a semi-out gay man in one of the greatest guitar-oriented bands of 80s post-punk, his road has been a pretty unusual one in rock terms; he got clean well before his first band imploded, did a writing stint for the WCW, and has managed to establish a secondary audience who knows him primarily for his DJing. I’ve also learned a few things about same-sex, clothing optional hotels and bear culture, so there’s that.
As a longtime, but semi-lapsed Mould fan, I came to the book mainly for insight on his music, and he’s not particularly forthcoming on his writing process on specific songs; but it’s easy to intuit quite a bit based on the details he gives on his personal life (although it must be said that the number of songs he’s written about breakups and harrowing relationships is striking in light of the very few—and mostly very long-term—partners he’s had).
The last album I truly loved by Mould was The Last Dog and Pony Show in 1998. I couldn’t follow him down the electronic rabbit hole of Modulate (which he now seems to acknowledge as a good idea in theory, but not in execution), and his subsequent retreat back to guitar-oriented songwriting connects with me only on occasion. See a Little Light, while not exactly winning me over on much of the recent material, sheds some light on how he ended up where he did.
If nothing else, it’s encouraged me to finally check out the Circle of Friends DVD, where Mould and his circa-2005 band (Jason Narducy of Verbow on guitar, Rich Morel on keys, and, hot damn, Brendan Canty from Fugazi on drums) tackle solo, Sugar, and Husker Du tunes. Based on the video above, I’m loving Canty’s approach, which replaces Grant Hart’s swing and fluid rolls with metronomic timing and precision, but adds a groove absent from Mould’s work in the 90s (including Sugar, where Malcolm Travis’ frequent, pummeling 16th note snare fills were admittedly part of the appeal).