It would be difficult to define 2016 as anything other than a year dominated by loss, given the astounding number of cultural titans that have slipped into the great beyond. Certainly, in the UK at least, there has been an undeniable sense of collective grief. This shared experience has been intensified as a result of the accompanying mass media coverage, and our expanding interaction via social media, all contributing factors to the ever-shrinking boundaries that exist between us.
If we consider the concept of art as the product of our society, certain mediums lend themselves to the immediacy of being able to react almost in the moment. Though the act of writing a song could fall into this category, the planning and execution involved in bringing a song or an album to the public domain could be considered less so. What has been particularly interesting this year, has been the release of a number of high profile albums which are inexplicably tied to such themes of loss and mortality, strangely, inhabiting the very same moment in time at which the world was still reeling in the wake of the seemingly endless news that yet another casualty had been claimed.
In addition to David Bowie’s ‘Black Star’; and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ ‘Skeleton Tree’; there has also been the release of Bob Mould’s ‘Patch The Sky’. Recently named in Rolling Stone’s list of the best albums of 2016 so far, this latest release can be considered somewhat of a hat-trick following on from the reception to Mould’s previous two solo albums ‘Beauty & Ruin’ and ‘Silver Age’. Though ‘Patch The Sky’ is a document of Mould’s personal experience following the passing of his mother, the moment at which the album landed, chimed remarkably with the “zeitgeist” at the point of its release.
It is with much anticipation that Birmingham welcomes the looming presence of Mould back to the city’s stage after a prolonged absence. Though Mould has toured the UK regularly in recent years, Birmingham has had to wait its turn before finding itself once more, nestled in amongst the lucky few on the tour itinerary.
Armed with the formidable, and unassailable backing of Jon Wurster on drums, and Jason Narducy on bass guitar, the three-piece waste no time in launching into a setlist that only relents once it begins to approach the thirty song threshold. Talk about getting your money’s worth. For those in attendance who might have favourable leanings toward a particular period in Mould’s career thus far, it would be hard to imagine any of them leaving tonight’s venue without having had a sizeable portion of their wish list delivered to them in Mould’s typical blistering fashion.
What a joy it is to witness a group of musicians who are so firmly in the ascent of their endeavours. Considering that this is the opening night of the tour, they are certainly firing on all cylinders, as they commence proceedings with the HÃ¼sker DÃ¼ classic ‘Flip Your Wig’; followed by ‘Hate Paper Doll’ and ‘I Apologise’. The chronological set continues as next up is ‘A Good Idea’ and ‘Changes’, both taken from Sugar’s ‘Copper Blue’. There is barely enough time register the ending of one song and the beginning of the next as the band proceed to emulsify the eardrums are all those in attendance with their relentless onslaught.
Bob Mould’s distinctive vocal and guitar playing, along with Wurster’s playing – the closest you could get to perfection – complemented by Narducy’s flourishes, are an intoxicating combination. It is easily understandable as to why Bob Mould has maintained this formation for so long. At one point, having moved towards the front of the stage, the view of Mould is obscured by the suspended PA system which ends up perfectly framing Mould’s guitar, focusing the attention solely upon his hands, which offers the opportunity to revel in the sheer intensity of his playing.
Bob Mould’s approach tonight is simple: hit the stage, give it all you’ve got, and leave them, yes, bereft of hearing temporarily, but with hearts brimming with joy. I certainly hope that it is not too long before both organs are subjected to the same rigours.
Review: Chris Curtis