The term legend can be bandied about a little too casually in the music world, but let’s just say it: Bob Mould, the legendary punk singer and guitarist, is coming to town.
Payomet Performing Arts Center is presenting the man who gave his ferocity to Hüsker Dü in the 1980s and refined it for Sugar in the 1990s at Provincetown Town Hall on Friday, May 27. His “Solo Electric: Distortion and Blue Hearts!” is the way to kick off Memorial Day weekend with a droning, rocking scream against injustice.
Speaking by phone from Palm Springs, Calif., where he recently bought a house, the 61-year-old says he is taking a pause before he heads to the Outer Cape and beyond on a solo tour that will comprise some 60 dates and take him to Europe and into the fall.
Mould has always been upfront about his political consciousness, and the Trump and Covid years have invigorated the social commentary he delivers over his howling guitar.
In our conversation, Mould riffs on the morning news: Roe v. Wade’s likely demise.
“This is the minority party showing us what ‘freedom’ looks like.” Mould laughs darkly. “This doesn’t look like the freedom I keep hearing about.” He is somehow optimistic on this issue, though: “I don’t think it will take long for the people to have their say on this one.”
But he hasn’t lost touch with his signature rage — rage at the killing of George Floyd, he says, and at “all kinds of madness leading to the election, then all the attendant nonsense of Jan. 6.”
With his 2020 album Blue Hearts, Mould made a serious return to political angst after the relative cheerfulness of Sunshine Rock, released the previous year. On it, he fires full volleys of taut rock with renewed urgency.
“Wake up every day to see a nation in flames/ We click and we tweet and we spread these tales of blame,” Mould intones over the trademark buzzsaw of his guitar — and the relentless drive of his long-established rhythm section, bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster.
“I probably have driven some people away lately, and that’s OK,” Mould says. “There’s a time and a place to shut up and rock, but that’s not right now.”
Mould has been thinking a lot about the 1980s and how the America of those years set up the country’s current pain. Blue Hearts conveys a cautionary, historical tone. And some of that, he admits, is a reflection of his own personal history.
“I guess for years I was taking it for granted that my audience knew my history and knew my story,” Mould says. With Blue Hearts, he says, he decided that “a reminder might not be a bad thing.”
Mould started Hüsker Dü in the spring of 1979 with bassist Greg Norton and drummer-singer Grant Hart. He was 18 years old. “We were three guys just sort of making shit up,” he says. Although the trio went through an acrimonious breakup in 1988, Mould is proud of “trying out a lot of different sounds, trying to eventually grow into our own sound. We did a lot of good work.”
Left to his own devices, Mould knew he did not want to make a record that sounded like his first. So, for Workbook, his first solo album, he says he set out to relearn guitar. On that path, he says, “I started digging a little deeper into orchestration, into Celtic music, into bluegrass, into funk … and writing for an individual voice,” his own.
The album, released in 1989, remains a diamond in a deep and consistently satisfying catalog.
Mould’s been driving the bus ever since, revisiting the power trio format with Sugar for two excellent albums — Copper Blue in 1992 and 1994’s File Under Easy Listening — before resuming a solo career and diversifying his sound into electronic club music, something that coincided with him fully embracing his identity as a gay man.
The Last Dog and Pony Show, which Mould put out in 1998, was, he says, the end of his “rock ’n’ roll-guitarist-living-in-the-van kind of thing.”
Until that time he’d been ignoring his sexual identity, he says. But he decided that needed to change. “I was living in New York City,” he says, “and I thought maybe if I put the guitar down and just sort of got into gay life, I’d find more of myself.”
He listened his way into the gay community, he says, where “the soundtrack was very different from rock ’n’ roll — it was club music.” He dove in, he says. That’s had a lasting effect. “Twenty years later, I’m much more comfortable in my own skin.”
Mould’s foray into club music led to DJ Blowoff, a dance party he and house remixer, producer, and recording artist Rich Morel started in Washington, D.C. in 2003. They brought Blowoff to Bear Week in Provincetown in 2008 and returned for years after that for Tuesday nights at the Boatslip.
Mould says he loves the history of artists and writers that pervades Provincetown. He comes for the light, too: “It’s incredible.” About this stop on his tour, Bob Mould is uncharacteristically sanguine. He’s happy, he says, “just to be able to bring a party to P’town and be a part of that.”
No Time to Shut Up
The event: Bob Mould in concert, “Solo Electric: Distortion and Blue Hearts!”
The time: Friday, May 27 at 7 p.m.
The place: Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St.
The cost: $35 at payomet.org