NUMERO 10th November 2017
There are events that make such an impression that I can remember where I was and what I was doing. The first time I heard Husker Du was one of those. Speeding down the M6 on a hitch-hiking trip.
You have to hear this, said the driver.
He was right – I did have to hear it. It was Zen Arcade.
I’m not a big fan and I can’t name, or often even, distinguish some of the songs but the sound, the speed, the energy, the grasp of adrenalin pulse and tune told me this was something life-enhancing.
So here we have a major release of 3 CDs worth of early material. Something I thought was completely unnecessary, except to geeks. WRONG! There are moments which are more interesting in the context of development but many more documenting gigs you would have loved to be at (much of this is live) or singles too obscure for you to hear. Running up to not long before Zen Arcade and (sort of) including Land Speed Record and Everything Falls Apart; this is Husker Du before hardly anyone outside the twin cities had heard of them.
Land Speed Record is a different gig from the same tour, slightly better recorded, while Everything Falls Apart is in a different order. Whatever: their early releases were never that up on quality and the drums mostly sound like cardboard boxes – you’re really here for that early burn and to wonder how those early gigs would have felt.
CD1 has the early punk/metal, sometimes Motorhead-ish but we’ll let the Americans call it Hardcore, even though Britain defined the genre before it existed. There is thrashing but it is steadier, more naïve; teen songs where you can hear the lyrics. ‘Do The Bee’ stands out for crazy fuzzed-up trash and you’ll hear their early love of tuneful riffs. The Ramones’ ‘Chinese Rocks’ gets covered. The live tracks are blisteringly fast, with crazy drums. Song-writing matures as the CD passes. And it ends on the classic ‘Industrial Grocery Store’.
CD2 starts on the fabulous ‘Drug Party’, in a rough and ready version. ‘Call On Me’ is equally awesome, while ‘Stick It To Me’ shows Husker Du can do ballad-paced power. ‘All Tensed Up’ turns the Motorhead knobs up to 11. By ‘You’re Naive’, we are almost into Oi! Territory but that heavy tuneage thrash brings us straight back up. This all-live disc includes a parallel to Land Speed Record with very nearly the same set-list and documents the sort of small gigs you’d have loved to be at.
CD3 sees it all come together with the band ready for take-off. Manic drums underpin the whole but the twin axis of song-writing is taking off, as second album, Everything Falls Apart is released and featured here, re-ordered). A cover of Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’ and title track ‘Everything Falls Apart’ are a total sugar-rush and ‘Wheels’ is a fully-mature song and band. From there we journey back into some more tackily-recorded live material. It is bliss – paper-box drums, oodles of squally guitar and shouting.
More than a historical document, this is good fun. If you don’t know the band, do, of course, delve deeper – they got better. But this is where the legend started.
There are truly great bands playing your little venues. Sample them, some have potential to be as great as Husker Du, some don’t. Only that formative experience of touring tiny venues will hone their skills to somewhere where they might just take wing.