Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Heartbreak a Stranger

It looked like a serendipitous situation. I was coming home to Ann Arbor on Friday, and Bob Mould, one of my favorite musicians, was playing at the legendary Blind Pig. The man is – and using this term makes me wince – a rock god to me. My roommate at Michigan State introduced me to Husker Du, and it was a musical awakening. My tastes changed forever after that. Later, I found Mould’s solo stuff, which was moodier, but beautifully introspective. The melancholy guitar riff on “Heartbreak a Stranger” can stop me in my tracks. And I “discovered” Mould’s next band, Sugar, at Tower Records (Ann Arbor location, R.I.P.) when their CD “Copper Blue” was played in the store. The blistering guitars from “Helpless” yanked me over to the information desk to ask who was playing. They were probably my favorite band of the 90s. I saw them in concert three times, and when Mould visited Detroit on his own between Sugar albums (at least twice), I went to those shows too.

So when I (inadvertently) found out about the November 19 concert on the internet, I was thrilled. What a beautiful coincidence! After dinner with my parents, I’d go downtown and wait in line. Going to the show was a no-brainer!

Then I remembered I don’t like Bob Mould’s new musical direction. He put down the guitars for his last CD, “Modulate,” and embraced electronica instead. I remember my face being frozen in disbelief while I drove home from the music store. I even took the CD out of the player to make sure a wrong one hadn’t accidentally been packaged in the jewel box. Synthesizers? Drum tracks? Loops? Beats? What the @#$%? Where were the guitars? Where was the ROCK from Mould that I had blasted in the car for years? The only thing this stuff made me want to do in my car is drive it off a bridge.

I thought I should give the CD another chance and be more loyal and supportive to an artist whose music I’d loved. But I never listened to it again. (I’m not even sure I own “Modulate” anymore; my collection’s back in Iowa City.) In the two years since, I hoped that Mould would return to the guitar-driven rock I loved for his next album, but he apparently hasn’t.

In an interview with the Ann Arbor News, Mould said he’d continue to play with synthesizers, samplers, and vocoders. He did throw a bone to those perplexed by this new sound, however. “Now that I’ve been working in that style for a couple of years,” he said, “and being more educated in the history of electronic music, I feel more confident in integrating that with guitar music.”

So I opted not to attend the show. And I feel a tinge of regret about that. The Blind Pig is a great venue for live music. I would’ve loved to see the “old” Bob Mould play there. Part of me wishes I wanted to see the new version, but electronica feels so soulless to me. If I met Mould, I’m sure he’d ask me to give his new stuff a chance. An artist stretching him or herself is something that should be commended by fans and critics, even if it runs outside the artist’s previous body of work. But ultimately, we like what we like, right? I have no idea whether I’ll buy his next CD, “Body of Song," but I'll always be glad Bob Mould's making music.