When Bob Mould announced that he’d be embarking on an “intimate” tour to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his solo debut, Workbook, I immediately thought coffeehouse. The quiet venues, the absence of drums, the celebration of his softest album—all of it sounded like an empty exercise in MTV Unplugged-style nostalgia.
Well, call me wrong, call me an asshole, call me a typical close-minded rock critic. Because last night’s set at City Winery showcased the heaviest—and best—versions of Workbook‘s songs, as well as some choice cuts from Mould’s other solo albums and his work with Sugar and Hüsker Dü. There were no acoustic guitars. There was no self-indulgent storytelling; just Mould, his longtime bassist/second guitarist Jason Narducy, and cellist Alison Chesley, who played with Narducy in the short-lived but excellent ’90s alt-rock outfit Verbow.
From the get-go, the trio made no attempt to stay hushed. “Sunspots” may only contain autumnal plucking on record, but live, Mould drowned Workbook‘s opener in distortion. The band used similar tactics on other songs from the album to make up for the set’s percussive gaps, drastically slowing down the first half of “Brasilia Crossed with Trenton” so the climax’s entrance of bass and cello became a true explosion. The crescendo then bled into a blaring yet focused static that transformed into “Sinners and Their Repentances”.
The non-Workbook tunes received similar muscular textures, thanks in no small part to Chesley. While you wouldn’t necessarily think a cellist would be a rock trio’s secret weapon, she often replicated the guitar solos from some of the evening’s most rapid-fire songs, most notably “The Descent”. Elsewhere, her bow twisted the spacy keyboard intro of “Hoover Dam” into something rougher and more visceral. It even caused a middle-aged couple to get up and enthusiastically pogo, never once looking out of place despite City Winery’s sit-down atmosphere. Their dancing continued throughout an encore that consisted of Verbow’s “Holiday” (with Narducy on lead vocals), “Circles”, and Sugar’s “If I Could Change Your Mind”.
Mould himself even commented on the music’s evolution and the spirit of the crowd, who all rose for a standing ovation at the end of the night. “These songs have a way of coming back to life,” he remarked. Sure, 25 years have passed since Workbook. But last night’s show wasn’t a revisiting. It was a redefining.
Heartbreak a Stranger
See a Little Light
Stop Your Crying
No Reservations (Hüsker Dü song)
Brasilia Crossed with Trenton
Sinners and Their Repentances
Walls in Time
Helpless (Sugar song)
Hoover Dam (Sugar song)
Holiday (Verbow cover)
If I Can’t Change Your Mind (Sugar song)