Bob Mould

A Rock and Roll Lifer

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by G.W. Mercure

Rock and roll is new. It’s not as new as hip-hop, its nascent nephew, but it’s way younger than uncle jazz. And jazz is, relatively, new. So the rock and roll lifers, those acts and artists arriving at further and further reaches of their lives and careers and still making relevant, popular, uncompromising music—Dylan, Springsteen, even the hip-hop legends from the recent Super Bowl halftime performance—are a brand new thing for our culture. And rock and roll has learned to love its lifers, like Bob Mould, the pioneering post-punk paragon whose 1980s band Hüsker Dü laid the foundation for Nirvana, mapped out where alternative rock could go, and established Mould as a visionary voice, alternately vitriolic and vulnerable, for almost 40 years. Live performances by legends like Mould are relevant events in any context, but the tour that Mould and the Payomet Performing Arts Center are bringing to Provincetown Town Hall on May 27 has added urgency.

In September of 2020, with the world still in the clutches of a deadly pandemic, rocked by the West’s prevailing slouch toward authoritarianism, and reeling from the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and its political fallout, Mould released Blue Hearts. The album is a searing broadside of rage and passion, evoking the punk reinventions of Hüsker Dü. Mould says he considers the songs on Blue Hearts to be protest songs, and compares the tumult of 2020 to the rise of Ronald Reagan and the religious right around 1984 (perhaps not a coincidence that he chose “1984” for comparison). After almost two years, several effective vaccines, and a change in the White House, Mould finds the songs on Blue Hearts even more relevant. When asked if we are living in a time more or less like 1984 than it was when he wrote the songs for Blue Hearts, he doesn’t hesitate: “More,” he says. “Unfortunately, much more.”

“I wish I could say things are less like 1984 than they were, but I can’t,” says Mould. “I think, to the detriment of the country, it’s starting to feel like 1884 sometimes.” He cites the most recent developments: the leaked Supreme Court opinion that supports overturning Roe v. Wade, as well as Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. “The world is still somehow finding a way to be darker each day than the day before,” he concludes. Indeed, the Blue Hearts songs are more relevant than ever.

A rock and roll artist with a long and relevant career, especially one borne of the punk movement, as with Mould, most often remains a model and voice for their fans and followers. Another aspect of the rock and roll lifer is change–in their lives, their music–but Mould has, with some notable detours, continued to create within the aesthetic of his work with Hüsker Dü. While Mould considers the tour a retrospective of the last decade, leaning heavily on Blue Hearts, he uses material from throughout his career. “When I go out solo I’ve got a much bigger song book available to me, it’s a little more spontaneous.” The show is likely to include music from Hüsker Dü, his solo albums, and the tragically short-lived 1990s alternative rock band Sugar. And also, potentially, some material that Mould devotees haven’t heard before. “I’ve got a handful of new songs that I’m working on. I haven’t played them out yet, but now that I’m up and running again I’m feeling like hopefully there could be a couple new things each night,” he says.

As for what else fans can expect from the solo electric show, Mould seems both energized and pragmatic. “It’s a pretty dynamic show,” he promises. “It’s a pretty aggressive, louder, guitar-and-voice-type show.” While the spare and honed nature of that configuration will serve the urgency of the Blue Heartssongs, among other material, there is also a practical reason for it: “Touring is tricky right now,” he says. “Not all tours are going as planned. This is a way for me to be able to get back to work and get out and see people and play shows without the stress of having a tour end prematurely because somebody gets sick in the party.”

Over more than 40 years of touring and recording, a rock and roll lifer and legend like Bob Mould has seen music and culture and the world change a lot. And, unfortunately, Mould has seen many of the wrong things change back. One thing that hasn’t changed for Mould: He is not alone among towering creative figures living as out men who have found community and inspiration in Provincetown, and his affection for the area remains.

“I can’t wait to get back to Ptown,” he says.

Bob Mould will perform Solo Electric: Distortion And Blue Hearts! at Provincetown Town Hall, Friday, May 27, 7 p.m. The opening act is J. Robbins. For tickets and information call 508.487.5400 or visit payomet.org.