Bob Mould’s Sound at the Iron Horse

By Dean Curran

This past Tuesday Nov. 9, underground music legend Bob Mould graced the stage at the Iron Horse in Northampton. In his three decade career as a guitarist, singer and songwriter, Mould has been in bands Hüsker Dü and Sugar, as well as putting together a successful solo artist. He is remarkable in his contributions known as alternative rock, and has been cited as a major influence by the likes of Nirvana, the Pixies and the Foo Fighters.

The opening act was a solo acoustic performance by singer songwriter Chris Brokaw, former member of the bands Come and Codeine. Rich full-bodied chords entwined with impressively pretty guitar fills characterized his brooding performance. A song from an album he made of pre-World War II country blues songs was particularly memorable, for his style offered a compelling interpretation of the genre.

After a brief intermission, Mould took the stage with his acoustic guitar. He opened the set with “Wishing Well,” of off 1989’s “Workbook,” his debut solo album. His forcefully expressive voice meshed perfectly with his chiming chords, and the audience exploded in applause at the song’s end. Another highlight was a captivating rendition of “See a Little Light.” He was so steeped in his music that he was prone to slightly changing his vocal delivery of a song on the spot, making it different from familiar recordings. As a result, fans attempting to sing along may have found themselves out of sync with Mould at times, but the approach made the performance more interesting.

Bob Mould’s live show was an exhibition of a man completely in his element, playing the songs that have defined his life with an unmatched earnestness. While he played, he appeared totally within himself, channeling his soul through the microphone and the fret board in a dynamic projection of emotion. But between songs, he reaches out to the crowd to tell funny personal anecdotes and interact with individual concertgoers. Though he’s now 50-years-old, his age seemed irrelevant on stage. Getting sober and training for his other passion – wrestling – has made Mould as on-point and energetic in 2010 as he was in the 80’s with Hüsker Dü.

Halfway through the set, Mould picked up his electric guitar, much to the delight of the audience. He played the title track from his latest album “Life and Times.”  Wrapped in the reverb-laden fuzz of his guitar, the song was striking in its startling honesty. Equally memorable was a ferocious rendition of Hüsker Dü’s “Something I Learned Today,” played with as much urgency and indignation as it was on the album “Zen Arcade.” Mould closed the set with “Celebrated Summer,” from Hüsker Dü’s acclaimed album “New Day Rising.” The elegant melody that had been implied in Hüsker Dü’s blistering recording became fully apparent in his solo performance of the song.

In a brief interview with the Collegian, Mould said that “Celebrated Summer” is one of his favorite songs that he has written. When asked about its inspiration, he explained that it was an “early melancholy song” and a deliberate departure from the rage that was “Zen Arcade.”

Bob Mould returned for an encore, performing Sugar’s hit single “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” and Hüsker Dü’s “Makes No Sense At All.” Both songs illuminated his knack for empowered pop songwriting, and were a perfect end to the night.

Dean Curran can be reached at [email protected]