Words by Jake Butler
I had been to Cafe Du Nord numerous times, and had always heard rumor of this mysterious “Swedish American Hall” that lie above us in the strange world above street level just past the Church St. MUNI stop.
I walk into a sea of seated concertgoers who would likely give up their first born before their seat. There’s probably 70 chairs or so in the center, with limited seating along the borders of both the base level and the balcony at the Swedish American Music Hall. I instantly notice that there is an abundance of blazers, makeup, dresses, and straight up classy folks. This was balanced out by the sleeve-tatted, leather jacket, new school fans of good music. You had a spread of folks spanning from the young, Husker Du-story-driven attendees to the Sugar-fan, solo-Bob Mould fan base. It was quite a collection and I believe everyone got their fill.
Mark Eitzel kicked off the evening for me. My sister f-in’ loves lounge music so as soon as Eitzel hit those pipes, I texted her about some stuff she had to check out.
Mark sucks you in with his very personal, ridiculously good storytelling. He then keeps you trapped with his brutally honest vulgarity. Let’s face it, no matter how straight edge, religious, or anti-social you may be, vulgarity is a part of life, and Mark Eitzel includes it in his music in just the appropriate, human proportions.
Whether it be a girl rolling on ecstasy at the Rickshaw Stop or an All-American packing heat in a patriotic speedo, Mark’s got a story for you. He stands in the ultimate juxtaposition of the bands I’ve seen downstairs at Du Nord, sporting only some horns and a clarinet by way of some additional musicians.
I would later find out his familiarity with these musicians was merely cursory, but that never came through in the music.
Bias disclosure – with any act that includes a flugelhorn (as Eitzel’s did), my eyes glaze over and I fall in love with the group.
Mark maintains a physically tugging, slightly incapacitating (due to the effort exerted) sound. He’s been fighting for some time to get this stuff heard, and dab-nam-it, it’s happening! Eitzel simultaneously croons, cries, chronicles, and cites the best of the best of interesting bar stories I’ve ever heard.
The horn/woodwind backing group for Eitzel was minimalist, sometime not even playing on a song, but the clarinet player reminded me how beautiful that instrument can sound. Eitzel’s steady references to San Francisco (kicking off with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, citing Mission Rock Cafe and Rickshaw stop in story and song) made me feel at home.
As Eitzel’s set came to a close, he would sit on the edge of the stage to get up close and personal with the crowd, and at it’s conclusion he made a b-line for the bar.Â One word – awesome.
And then you tell me I’m seeing Bob Mould – I’m in!
I would later dis-confirm the rumor that Bob’s moving to the bay, as he currently owns some real estate that needs to re-consolidated first. I would also later shake Bob’s hand and be incredibly jealous of my friends that they weren’t me at that exact moment I shook Mr.Â Mould’s hand.
Bob Mould took the stage and it was just the right size for a man and guitar. He forewarned us that his voice was a little off and just recovering, and this would prove true towards the end of the set. But for the most part, his voice was honest and visceral, a little rough around the edges but with a solid core. He opened with “Wishing Well,” which definitely kicked things up a notch from the previous set. His punk pedigree from the Husker Du days definitely plays a role in all of his songs.
The corner of the room I was standing in seemed to be packed with the diehard fans, because they were singing every song, and these were tracks that traversed a few decades.
Mould surprised us with some tracks off his forthcoming album, due in mid-April.Â The title track, “Life and Times,” was great. It had a melancholic pain to it that his voice matched perfectly, complete with its stressed, hoarse imperfections. He followed this up with “The Breach,” and if these two tracks are indicative of the rest of the album, its a must-buy for me.
Mould would don his Stratocaster for a few songs and kick in that good ol’ rock & roll distortion. He kicked into “Celebrate Summer,” which an audience member had requested earlier in the evening. He tried to get somebody up on stage to sing it with him, but I think we were all just too much in awe to do so.
You could tell his voice was really starting to bug him and he didn’t want to do anymore damage to it, so left us with on last song – “Makes No Sense At All,” before departing into the San Francisco night.
Favorite Moment: When Bob Mould played “Makes No Sense At All” and finally got a fan with the guts to sing onstage with him, all the while pitching in a line or two here and there when the audience member lost his place.