Bob Mould and Mark Eitzel
Swedish American Hall
February 28, 2009
Review by Vicky Walker
Better Than: All those weedy so-called "emo" musicians who wouldn't recognize tragedy if it bought them a beer.
Misery loves company, it's said, so I'm not surprised to see a sellout crowd at the Swedish American Hall for the myrmidons of melancholy, Bob Mould and Mark Eitzel. Round-shouldered young men in dark clothing huddle next to young women in sharp bangs and paisley-swirled frocks. Balding older men stand at the back, feet planted, arms folded, stubbornly refusing to step aside for incomers. Several rows of folding chairs in the main hall have transformed it into a school assembly for overgrown ruffians. The century-old wood paneling and soft lamps make it warm and cozy, bathed in a warm fireside glow.
Mark Eitzel lopes up to the stage looking like a bearded cartoon hobo in trilby, baggy pants, and a hunting jacket with a large tear in the shoulder. He's accompanied by three guys and a gal playing saxophone, trombone, French horn, and clarinet respectively, and another guy at the grand piano. They strike up "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and it's gorgeous, Eitzel's warm, deep voice sounding both melancholy and uplifting at once.
It's immediately clear that Eitzel is having a good time. He has described one of his former bandmates as "an understated sentimental curmudgeon." I'd say that fits Eitzel perfectly. He tells jokes against himself ‑ "I had just opened up for Everything But the Girl; that was my personal Vietnam" ‑ and goofs around by stripping off his coat and hat and threatening to lose more while singing about a girl on Ecstasy he recently met in a bar: "You took off your blouse and went Girls Gone Wild on a crowd who just didn't want to know." His version of Goffin and King's "No Easy Way Down" (made famous by Dusty Springfield) is less elegiac than inspirational, Eitzel's voice soaring to the timbered rafters.
Eitzel brings down the house with a super-cheese-tastic cover of Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones," here transformed into "Me and Mr. Jones," hammily serenading his imaginary lover on one knee, rending his garments in mock torment. He ends with "Patriot's Heart," about a male stripper ‑ "He don't look that good, but he's got an all-American smile/That fills his underwear with all the lonely dollars from all the lonely men who no one ever suffers" ‑ and slips self-effacingly into the wildly applauding crowd as quietly as he arrived.
After Eitzel's set, the bar has run out of beer ("We only brought six kegs!" one bartender says. "We thought for sure that would be enough"). I hope he drove the audience to drink a toast to his stellar set rather than to drown their sorrows.
The folded-arms guys are still clogging the back of the hall as Bob Mould strides onstage with an acoustic guitar and launches into a scorching version of "Wishing Well." I thought I preferred him when he was miserable and angry, but now he's happy and angry -- and he kicks ass just the same. He tears through older Hüsker Dü and Sugar songs ("Hoover Dam," "See a Little Light," "No Reservations"), his voice getting hoarse and croaky at times.
Someone shouts for "Celebrated Summer" (from 1984's New Day Rising). "Uh, I don't think I want to turn this show into karaoke," Mould shoots back, and launches into four incendiary new songs. A small doughnut-sized patch of sweat has bloomed on his gray T-shirt right where the top of his guitar sits.
And then he does play "Celebrated Summer," and mutters something about how he hates "Peter Pan songs" and tries to be like Tinkerbell to make it work. He's worried that he's losing his voice, but the crowd urges him on. The doughnut expands upward to meet a matching band of sweat around his shirt neck. A guy hops up onstage to take lead vocals on "Makes No Sense at All" (from 1985's Flip Your Wig) and we all rise from our seats and bellow along joyously. Noise Pop indeed.
Random Detail: I peeked into an upstairs room labeled Valhalla, looking for a valkyrie or two. No Norse gods here, alas.
By the Way: Eitzel's blog at http://markeitzel.blogspot.com is observant, hilarious, and scathing all at once. Read it.