The middle-aged man on stage, with his glasses and close-cropped thinning hair, could have passed for a suburban dad. Had he been out on Spy Pond Field for Arlington Town Night a few hours earlier, no one would have blinked an eye. Then Bob Mould unleashed a glorious cacophony with his guitar and left no doubt that he was someone special.
Mould arrived at the Paradise on Friday to a packed house to support his latest album, Beauty & Ruin. He’s been making the promotional rounds, and as I listened to his new material, I realized how distinctive his guitar sound is, even for someone like me who isn’t a guitar geek, and how much I loved hearing it, even though I’d never been a huge Hüsker Dü or Sugar fan. The album has gotten a good response for Mould’s skill as a lyricist, but live it was all about the guitar: the distortion, depth and din. No angry young man, Mould wielded a smile and an axe, creating a joyous noise.
Bassist Jason Narducy matched Mould in spirit, and the esteem in which Mould holds him was evident from their mic positions. Mould placed himself not in the center of the stage with Narducy shunted off to the side. Instead, each was equidistant from drummer Jon Wurster at the center, except when they frequently flung themselves around the stage.
Punk is about more than a store-bought snarl and Hot Topic wardrobe. Hüsker Dü never fit that fashion mold back in the day, so there’s no reason for Mould to do it now. It’s in blazing his own path, guitar as machete, that Mould has lasted this long, playing to larger crowds than he did 25 years ago and remaining relevant.