Bob Mould is an indie rock pioneer who, in his 50s, is comfortable where he is, with his legacy, with his power trio format, with his knack for writing what are mostly incredibly catchy pop songs that bellow and roar. He’s reliable, works hard and brings it night after night.
But sometimes reliable becomes predictable. Most nights you can bet money he’ll open with "The Act We Act" from Sugar’s debut — his "Whiskey River," that one — then he’ll push the new record and please the crowd with "Helpless" and such, his best-known stuff, and everybody in the house will wake up the next day with ringing ears. Saturday at the Mohawk was not one of those nights. Maybe because he, bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster recently played the tiny 7th St. Entry club in Minneapolis, where Husker Du first learned to pin a crowd to the wall, Mould found dog-eared pages in his songbook he’d forgotten and delivered a bracing set as noteworthy for what it contained as for what it didn’t.
The Huskers’ "Flip Your Wig" opened and signaled things were going to be different. "Hate Paper Doll," another one from "Wig" also known as "the one after ‘Makes No Sense At All’ " followed and it seemed a lot of the crowd couldn’t place it. No matter. That one served to tee up "Changes," also from Sugar’s "Copper Blue," which lit the fuse for the rest of the show. They plowed through "The Descent," "I Don’t Know You Anymore" and "The War" — probably the three best songs from his last two albums — like linemen looking to take down hapless Tony Romo. "Come Around," from Sugar’s raw and caustic "Beaster" EP, got a breath of fresh air. (That one might have been called from the stage, another sign that Mould, firmly in his middle years, is still capable of being spontaneous.)
Then it was a nonstop sprint to the finish: The prescient "Divide And Conquer," with which Mould basically predicted today’s Internet in 1985. "If I Can’t Change Your Mind," maybe the catchiest tune ever written about a sinking relationship. "Hey Mr. Grey," a wry look at getting old with a shout-out to The Replacements. "Something I Learned Today," the lead-off from "Zen Arcade." Makes No Sense At All," but of course.
And then the theme from the "Mary Tyler Moore" show which the Minneapolitan Huskers released as a B-side. As the closer. Who would have predicted that? The old boy still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Saturday was Mould at his enervated, invigorated freshest and finest. The only thing predictable was Sunday morning’s ringing ears.