Monday, December 23, 2019

Snow & Ice: Ice Cold Ice

Hüsker Dü: Ice Cold Ice

There are many truisms in the world of music fandom, and one of them is that when a “punk” band starts releasing well-produced albums, particularly on a major label, and particularly when the songs and playing show craftsmanship, the band’s early fans scream “sellout.” For example, The Clash were accused of “selling out” at least as early as London Calling, and certainly by the time of Combat Rock. Of course, other critics at the time, and more recently, have pointed out that another word for that is “evolving,” or that it was possible for ambitious, talented bands to want to transcend the purity of punk for a broader artistic vision and, possibly, a larger audience (and yeah, probably more money.)

Hüsker Dü emerged from Minneapolis in the late 1970s-early 1980s, and their initial approach of playing music loud, fast and hard was made clear from the name of their first album, Land Speed Record. But relatively quickly, you could hear through the aural assault (and poor production values) that songwriters Bob Mould and Grant Hart were able to write melodic pop songs. Even if those songs were played at punk rock speeds and volumes, and often dealt with difficult themes.

As their music evolved, their influence increased, and in the mid-80s, Hüsker Dü became the first band of their “scene” to sign with a major label (during a period when major labels were taking risks, looking to find the next big thing(s). Of course, the complaints of "sellout" rang out (as they did years later when Green Day transcended their punk roots and became more mainstream and popular.)  I saw Hüsker Dü tour in support of their first major label album, and it was a great, if incredibly loud show. Their second album for Warner Bros., 1987’s Warehouse:Songs and Stories, was a double album filled with well-produced, well-written songs that still had the energy of punk. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say that this album was one of the precursors of the “alternative rock” movement that became popular in the ensuing years. 

However, despite the quality and influence of Warehouse, it was also the end of Hüsker Dü. Over the years, Mould and Hart had developed a rivalry that was both artistic and personal, fueled first by their substance abuse, and later by Mould’s cleaning up and Hart going in the opposite direction.

One of the highlights of Warehouse is Mould’s “Ice Cold Ice,” a typically bleak and depressing but incredibly powerful song that uses cold and ice both metaphorically and literally.

In 2011, Mould was honored with a tribute concert at Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, mostly featuring Mould and his band playing with a series of guest stars, and it included this great version of “Ice Cold Ice,” featuring Dave Grohl:

The concert was, through a Kickstarter campaign, turned into a movie, but it doesn’t appear to be streamable at this time.

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