At the Rickshaw on Sunday, October 22
As great as Sunday’s Bob Mould solo concert at the Rickshaw was, the real wonderment of the night came during Ford Pier’s opening solo set. Pier performed a set of new songs, including one, “Dark Women” that I shot a video of.
He explained to the Straight afterward that his Vengeance Trio and Strength of Materials material both require the respective bands to accompany him, so he’d been working out a set specifically for such occasions. The songs were great—quirky, smart, and punchy enough that Pier could bounce around during the solos, which sometimes involved him playing over loops of himself; but while they were enjoyable, the astonishing thing about Ford’s set was, was: people listened to it. I mean, they really seemed to listen.
Pier was as stunned by it as anyone. He commented to me at the end of the evening that Vancouver audiences have a rep internationally for being chatty, often even during headliners. It’s a peeve of mine, too: many very special performances over the years (most recently, for me, Robyn Hitchcock opening for the Psychedelic Furs at the Commodore) have been very nearly ruined by people who simply won’t STFU, who come to concerts with intent to socialize and be seen, not to actually listen to the music. Maybe Bob Mould’s audience is simply more sophisticated than that (or maybe people had actually been made curious by my interview with Pier last week)? But for the majority of Pier’s set, all you could hear, in the Rickshaw, was… Ford Pier himself.
It was a slightly unnerving, if welcome, phenomenon. (I would chalk it up to Pier being on-point and passionate, but I’ve seen him be both to much less attentive audiences).
It was also a bit odd that no one made any fuss when Bob Mould himself-unmistakable, wearing a knit cap and glasses-came onstage while Ford Pier was packing up and set up his microphone and pedals. Usually people start whooping when an artist appears onstage, even if they’re only briefly popping out. Tonight - nothing. People realized it was Mould up there, being his own roadie-I could see fans nodding and pointing him out to their friends-but they saved their cheering until Mould actually began to perform.
It was all a bit disorienting. Odd too, to hear a lengthy set of songs more-or-less still definably punk performed in a completely solo context, without even loops. But Mould carried it off beautifully. He was spare with his between-song banter - joking at one point that he usually would try to say something political between songs, but he didn’t have to up here, and later, asking the audience if anyone had any bud, since he’d had to leave his in Washington State. (I feared that Mould would be deluged with weed after such a request but he was only given two neatly-rolled and filtered joints, afterwards, as he signed stuff people had brought; he gave thanks and quipped, “great, now I can sleep tonight!”).
The high points of the evening will probably vary depending on who you ask. Since the passing of Grant Hart, compared to earlier in Mould’s solo tour, it seems a larger number of Hüsker Dü songs have made their way into Mould’s set, including, most touchingly, a brief take on Hart’s “Never Talking to You Again,” which Mould dedicated to a “friend and workmate of mine” who had recently died. “Flip Your Wig,” “In a Free Land,” “Chartered Trips,” “I Apologize,” and an encore of “Love Is All Around” (the Mary Tyler Moore theme, which Dü had covered) and “Makes No Sense at All” were all among the 20+ songs Mould offered. For “Celebrated Summer” he made the interesting choice to change the lyrics, to “celebrated summertime,” but we presume this was to spare his vocal cords from the multisyllabic roar he makes when singing it on New Day Rising.
Sugar fans also got “Your Favourite Thing” and the evening’s opener, “Hoover Dam.” Mould did easy justice to all songs (though I thought I saw a flicker of annoyance cross his face that the audience applauded at the wrong points of “Celebrated Summer,” when the song went quiet. Surely we loyalists should know better?).
For an old school Hüsker Dü fan, the revelation was that I almost invariably preferred Mould’s solo songs, which seemed to involve much more furious fingerwork, and seemed somehow more appropriate to the solo context (not sure why; they, too, were written for a full band). “Sinners and their Repentances” was particularly delicate and moving. “Stand Guard,” from Mould’s second solo album, Black Sheets of Rain, was every bit as powerful live as it is on record. Mould smirked at one die-hard’s bellowed requests for the title track to that album, quipping, “it’s the first nice day all weekend, so no rain songs!”
As he played, he frequently made a gesture with his right hand, leaving the guitar to fly out towards the audience, like he was chucking wads of notes at them.
The pre-encore closer, “Black Confetti,” which, like “Hold On” and “You Say You,” is on his most recent solo LP, Patch the Sky-was maybe the evening’s most stunning feat, musically. By that point-after a long set, where one song fast followed on the heels of the previous-the interior of Mould’s glasses were misted with sweat, but his fingers flew through complex chord progressions with precision, reminding me of seeing Richard Thompson on Salt Spring this past summer. Except much faster and louder.
Tom Scholte, whom I’d also interviewed about his Bob Mould fandom, remarked on how HAPPY Mould seemed up there. He truly did. And he was extremely generous with fans. Even though the only merch had been a poster that he’d pre-signed, which had all sold by the end of the night, he stuck around until there was no one left in the queue, to sign anything that people brought him. That ranged from copies of Zen Arcade and a his autobiography, See a Little Light, to a paper cup some guy asked him to sign, so he’d have something to give to a buddy who couldn’t make it.
“Will you sign a paper cup?”
“I will sign a paper cup,” Mould replied, his Sharpie in hand. He patiently listened to umpteen stories, inspected Hüsker Dü tattoos, and was generally gracious and friendly, even though by that point his voice was getting pretty hoarse.
And speaking of Mould’s voice: Ford Pier’s joke (“where does Bob Mould spend his vacation?”) was a lot funnier seen live than when he posted it, earlier this week, on Facebook.
The answer? “In oAAAAAAAHu.”
I mean, it still wasn’t THAT funny, but…