What you hear on The Living End, a collection of live material recorded on Hüsker Dü’s last tour, in 1987, isn’t so much a band breaking up as a band threatening to fly apart, like an amusement-park ride with a loose bolt. Hüsker Dü take the shaggy brilliance of their recordings and tear the sound apart, open it up and weld it together again to make it bigger and better — what’s left to do but hurl it into space?
Drummer Grant Hart sketches a plan for the last showdown, putting a splashy pop kick into “Books About UFO’s” and laying out a stately, blurry-eyed march on “Hardly Getting Over It.” Greg Norton’s nimble-footed bass line suggests a telegraphic warning in “Powerline.” Singer-guitarist Bob Mould fills in the picture, never letting his sack o’ woe weigh him down too much: On “Celebrated Summer,” he sounds alternately worn out and tightly wound, as if he’s caught somewhere between exhilaration and the exhaustion of having been disappointed too many times.
But it’s Mould’s guitar sound, excruciatingly gorgeous at times, that seems most ready to implode. Mould spins out woolly, curlicued phrases in gorgeous, junkyard colors of rust, granite and slate; the sound is messy and big, with the unassuming majesty of dinosaur prints preserved in peat. That’s not to say The Living End is a fossilized care package for post-punk types already nostalgic for the ’80s. It’s more like graffiti saying simply, defiantly, hüsker dü were here.