BOB MOULD, HER SPACE HOLIDAY
King Cat Theater, 269-7444, $18.50 8 p.m. Sun., April 28
"WHAT THE HELL is this shit?"
That's a reaction that Bob Mould says he's heard before. He heard it in 1981 when the buzz saw that was Hsker D's first album, Land Speed Record, came out, and he certainly heard it again in 1989 upon release of his first post-Hsker offering, the lilting acoustic opus Workbook. Even for those forewarned about Mould's recent headfirst foray into electronic music, though, his new Modulate. may come as the biggest surprise of all. The first time through, the snaky rhythm and processed vocals of the opening track, "180 Rain," followed by the dance floor bluster, "Sunset Safety Glass," may lead more than a few longtime listeners to the conclusion that they're witnessing a career misstep of colossal proportions.
On the third track, "Semper Fi," Mould reels a few back by throwing his trademark guitar sound into the mix; from there, he proceeds to shift the gears back and forth enough that the beeps, gurgles, and drum machines quickly cease to be so foreign. By the next-to-last track, the ultra-catchy "Trade," Mould has vindicated himself. And it all goes down easier with repeated listening, making for Mould's most rousing record since 1992's Copper Blue, the debut of his second band, Sugar.
The change in direction has brought some newcomers to his fanbase—"a handful of electronica kids and a bunch of gay men my age," notes Mould—but he realizes that he's asking the diehards to take a giant leap, particularly with the stage show. There are no backing musicians, just Mould singing and playing guitar to prerecorded tracks in front of video screens featuring films (gay porn included!) made by Mould himself. According to the performer, the response has been very positive: "In a lot of ways, I think the shows have been more challenging for the audience than for me. There are a lot of jaws on the floor for the first 20 minutes especially. My audiences are traditionally people who consider themselves purists, and they're getting hit with these big screens and the stuff at the front of the show that's a little bit 'spicy.' It's understandable that they'd be confused. I'd be confused, too."
Though initially confident that the show would go over in places like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, Mould has been happy to see that his efforts have translated well in places like Madison, Columbus, and Charlotte, where he was convinced he'd be run out of town for the "adult" segments of the show. Quips Mould, "I didn't know that 30-year-old Southern women love gay porn so much!"
The concept that Mould returns to is "suspension of disbelief." Says Mould, "When I go to see theater or opera or any other kind of entertainment, I try to suspend my disbelief and just become a spectator instead of an analyst, and those are usually when I have my best experiences as an audience member." Mould's appreciation for the concept is one that he was forced to hone during a recent seven-month stint as creative consultant for World Championship Wrestling. A wrestling fan since childhood, Mould calls the experience "a dream come true." Reports Mould, "I couldn't stop pinching myself half the time I was there."
Besides being an enjoyable diversion, the wrestling job allowed Mould the time he needed to approach his music with enthusiasm again. Following his 1998 Last Dog and Pony Show LP and tour, Mould declared that he was finished touring with rock bands. He knew he wanted to try something new, but wasn't sure what. "I've still got notebooks from that era, and when I look back, there weren't any clues. . . . I think that just buying a sampler and following along with trying to teach myself new instruments, whether it was recording with computers or using samplers or loop slicers or things like that, helped. And being self-taught on that as I was on guitar, I knew that the results weren't going to be quite as professional as others, but that's part of getting a unique sound out of these things or putting things together in unique combinations that other people wouldn't. That's the whole trick to this thing."
Mould appears ready to keep learning even more tricks. He already has two more records, an electronic album composed entirely on a laptop and another acoustic one in the vein of Workbook—coming this year. Though he seems doubtful that he'll embark on another high-tech tour anytime soon, Mould does seem intent on continuing to try new things. As he says best in the letter included with Modulate.: "Everything is different again, and I look forward to the future."