Near the end of a bristling, two-hour tribute in his honor at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Bob Mould took the stage to note the irony of his life and music. “I’m sort of speechless,” he said last night, following performances by Dave Grohl, Ryan Adams, No Age and many others. “The cruel joke in this whole thing is… if I didn’t have such a strange childhood, and all this anger that I was carrying around and channeling into my music, I don’t know if we would be in this spot tonight.”
Indeed, the impact of Mould’s rage and his musical innovation continues to be felt in the generations of artists whom he’s influenced since emerging with Hüsker Dü in the early 1980s, then fronting Sugar and performing as a solo artist. Each stage of his legacy was on vivid display at “See a Little Light: A Celebration of the Music and Legacy of Bob Mould.”
The warmly acoustic Disney Hall featured a no-frills stage setup: just amps, guitars, microphones and drums. It was not unlike a 1980s Hüskers gig or a Sugar set from the 1990s, minus the musicians’ boots kicking mosh pit members in the faces. Opener Britt Daniel, lead singer of Spoon, captured the essence of Mould’s best work with the biting vocal melodies of Sugar’s “The Act We Act,” while guitarist Jessica Dobson took on the raw, slashing lead. Things got heavier with “JC Auto” as Daniel’s soaring chorus emerged from the familiar, impenetrable Sugar wall of sound: “Here’s your Jesus Christ / I’m your Jesus Christ, I know!”
Craig Finn of the Hold Steady noted that his first stage dive was at a Hüsker Dü show and that he’d taken guitar lessons in Minneapolis from the same person who taught Mould and other local rockers. Finn showed off his punk-rock education in his anxious deliveries of Hüsker Dü’s “Real World” and Sugar’s “A Good Idea,” seething with well-honed frustration.
Comedian Margaret Cho performed a yearning cover of Sugar’s “Your Favorite Thing” with singer-songwriter Grant Lee Phillips on jangly acoustic guitar. She was a convincing rock vocalist, delivering the lyrics with personality. “People don’t expect it to come out of my face,” Cho joked from the stage. “I’m a lot like Susan Boyle.”
The Los Angeles rock duo No Age – occasional collaborators with Mould – acknowledged the larger scene that Hüsker Dü represented in the 1980s, as well as the band’s famed indie label, SST Records. It was home to not only the Hüskers but also Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Bad Brains, Minutemen and the Meat Puppets. “SST, for us, was the beginning and end of punk. It was everything,” said guitarist Randy Randall. They were joined onstage by Mould, who plugged in and immediately began flailing over his guitar while belting out Hüsker Dü’s “I Apologize” with intense, commanding physical authority.
Wearing a black Motörhead shirt, Ryan Adams strummed an acoustic guitar through the power and sensitivity of “Heartbreak a Stranger” (from Mould’s 1989 solo album, Workbook). Adams unfolded the tune like a small and careful drama, then followed up with the delicate guitar melodies of Mould’s unaccompanied song “Black Sheets of Rain” and left the stage without a single word.
Dave Grohl appeared with Mould for an explosive six-song set, looking thrilled to be there as merely a fan, singing harmony and slashing along on guitar. They stood just inches apart during the opening of Hüsker Du’s “Ice Cold Ice,” thrashing their guitars and trading shouted lyrics. For “New Day Rising,” a Hüsker Du track, Grohl pounded a shattering drumbeat as Mould smiled at him over his shoulder.
“If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be making music the way I do, or play guitar the way I do,” Grohl told the audience. “His albums have really shaped me as a musician as much as the Beatles, as much as Led Zeppelin. He’s a real hero of mine and a real American icon.”
Mould’s own five-song set was a powerful finish, beginning with Sugar’s “Hoover Dam” and ending with Hüsker Dü’s “Makes No Sense at All.” He brought his guests back onstage to close with “See a Little Light,” a ballad from Workbook and the title of his autobiography. As Grohl leaned with his arms around the No Age members, Mould roared a fitting farewell: “Listen, there’s music in the air / I heard your voice coming from somewhere / But look how much we’ve grown.”