The facetiousness in bassist Jason Narducy's voice near the start of Sunday afternoon’s rehearsal at 7th Street Entry was as loud as the throwback performance to come later that night.
"I'm gonna need a lot of guitar in my monitor," Narducy instructed their sound man, to laughs.
The joke lay in the fact that Narducy was only standing about eight feet from bandleader Bob Mould's amplifier, as is always the case on the puny stage that has been an enormous incubator for Twin Cities bands since Mould himself formed a group 35 years ago. What’s more, Mould’s amp was predictably cranked loud enough to be heard eight blocks away, as is always the case when he’s playing with his current band -- just like it was with his first one.
Thirty-three years after Minneapolis punk heroes Hüsker Dü recorded their fastest (yet dullest) album in the Entry, “Land Speed Record,” the band’s co-leader returned there Sunday to play a gig that had been announced less than 24 hours earlier and sold out in less than 10 minutes. It was Mould’s first time performing in the 250-capacity former broom closet since a pair of solo-acoustic shows in 1991, but those gigs were nothing like the old days. Sunday’s concert very much was.
“How many of you have seen a band at the Entry play two sets?” Mould asked the crowd as he walked out on the stage for the second time Sunday.
Harking back to the days when headlining Entry bands were required to stretch out their act to beef up bar sales, the show was split into two sets. The 45-minute first block was made up largely of tunes from Mould’s last two albums, both recorded with Narducy (frontman of Verbow) and drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk). The second set started off with two songs that dated back to the “Land Speed” era, and it didn’t often get much more current than that. One of the Hüsker Dü songs, “Up in the Air,” had not been played by a Mould-led band since the year it came out (1987), and several more have only recently been dusted off.
Coming on the heels of their more standard but still memorable showing Saturday for the MN-Music-on-a-Stick concert – you wouldn’t have known their only rehearsal of late would be after that State Fair appearance – Mould and his bandmates tacked on Sunday’s gig as a warm-up for a month-long U.S. tour that begins Friday in Philadelphia, their first trek behind the emotionally blustery album from June, “Beauty & Ruin.” The show was also organized as a fundraiser for nonprofit music org DEMO, run by former First Ave manager Steve McClellan.
Talking in the First Ave green room next door after their rehearsal -- their afternoon workout included a couple other rare oldies not played later that night – Mould credited Narducy and Wurster for pushing him to revisit more Hüskers tunes, and to dust off other nuggets from throughout his discography. Narducy, for instance, encouraged them to add their rocked-up version of 1989’s “Sinners & Their Repentances” to Sunday’s set list, while Wurster pushed for “Come Around,” an uncharacteristically mellow one from Mould’s early-’90s trio Sugar. The drummer had also previously talked Mould into reviving 1985's “Flip Your Wig,” one of his all-time favorites.
“These guys love those records, and if they get excited to play that stuff, I do, too,” Mould said. “And yeah, I’m proud of a lot of it, too.”
Sunday’s show was a test run for the rest of the tour. “We’ll play with [the set list] at first,” Bob added, “and then there’ll be one night where it really seems to click, and it might be hard for us to break away from that one after that.”
Looking fit enough at age 53 to bench-press longtime admirer and new buddy Ryan Adams – he dropped about 30 pounds over the past year – Mould didn’t allow his bandmates time to catch their breath during most of the first set before tearing into the next song. There was even less room in the second run. The only time he seemed less than fully able-bodied was when he struggled to read the set list at his feet toward show’s end, but that was because he had to take off his glasses. No exaggeration: The lenses kept fogging up from the steam coming off the stage.
While the old songs predictably earned the most enthusiasm -- and even sparked a sizable pit of middle-aged moshers (none of whom where doing as well as Bob in the fitness/weight-loss department) -- a lot of Mould’s newest tunes would have fit in side-by-side with the Hüskers classics in terms of fiery delivery. Highlights included the full-on rager “The War” and the more melodic, upbeat pre-encore closer “Fix It.”
Mould himself was upbeat talking about his old days in the Entry, despite the distance he maintains from his Hüsker Dü bandmates these days. “We had a lot of fun nights in that particular room,” he said before the show. “Of course, a lot of it is a blur now, but I do know it was fun then. That's when the band was really clicking and probably at our best.”
Even when he’s not playing a show as special as Sunday’s, though, it’s pretty easy to see that Mould is having more fun with Narducy and Wurster than he’s ever had playing in a band, an assumption he confirmed before the gig.
“I said it [on Saturday], too: I hope I can play with these guys as long as I’m still playing.”
No argument there. Here’s Sunday’s set list(s):
Star Machine / The Descent / I Don't Know You Anymore / Sinners and Their Repentances / Little Glass Pill / Kid With Crooked Face / Nemeses Are Laughing / The War / Come Around* / Changes* / Helpless* / Keep Believing
In A Free Land+ / Real World+ / Something I Learned Today+ / Chartered Trips+ / Could You Be The One?+ / Flip Your Wig+ / See a Little Light / Celebrated Summer+ / Hardly Getting Over It+ / Tomorrow Morning / Up in the Air+ / If I Can't Change Your Mind* / Hey Mr. Grey / Fix It
Makes No Sense at All+ / Love Is All Around (theme from “Mary Tyler Moore Show”) / New Day Rising+
(+Hüsker Dü songs *Sugar songs)