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Dastardly joins the Time Team crew on a dig through the archive of US punk/alt.rock icons Husker Du with 'Savage Young Du', a new three CD box set.
‘Package for Mr Du! From England.’ As punk travelled back and forth across the Atlantic in the mid to late 70s the message changed with every new postmark but perhaps no one refined it more than three guys from Minneapolis – Bob Mould, Grant Hart and Greg Norton.
Husker Du didn’t look like punks, they didn’t even look like they were in the same band. But in any picture of them from that early period you’ll see three guys, one with a handle bar moustache who look totally at ease with each other and Don’t. Give. A. Fuck. what you think they should look like, sing about or sound like.
It’s called attitude. And it’s why the surfacing of some of their smelly live sound desk recordings and demos form nearly forty years ago is as important as most of the er, ‘product’ spewing forth from multiple streaming sites this year. Take ‘Out On A Limb’ for example if you want genre-defining influence and imagine a teenage Kurt Cobain hearing the song and adding his own trademark repetitive vocal drone melody over the top. Voila! Nirvana.
Like any gang, Husker Du set about defining themselves by what they didn’t like as much as what they did, so there’s plenty of commentary on their local scene and particularly it’s wannabes. ‘When you’re jumping around the bar and you never really know where you are, You’re trying really hard to be a rock star’ observes Mould in ‘You’re Too Obtuse’ while Hart exclaims ‘Are you different? Are you new? No, you’re just a statue’ over a wash of Keith Levene-esque migraine guitar on ‘Statues’.
Ultimately they defined themselves as a searing live act. The sonic attack of ‘Do You Remember?’ sounds like the trap going up at the dog track complete with post-modern infinity mirror lyrics ‘We do it all for fun you know/Jump, shout and scream/Get loaded after the show/It’s all part of a scheme’. Then there’s the inevitable contenders for the Pram / Toy throwing Olympics with ‘What do I want’ scoring an impressive 32 metres in under a minute and a half . At the other end of the scale Bob delivers a mournful ‘Termination’ blending both sides of the rock divide as he manages to sound like Bernard Sumner and Jimmy Page in the same song.
Through all this intensity you can start to hear the songwriting taking shape as simple couplets get stuck in your head - ‘You’ve got a lot to say/But you never
say it to me’ rails Bob on ‘What Went Wrong? ‘Industrial Grocery Store’ meanwhile is a lesson in how to hang a song off a single motif and ‘Everything Falls apart’ and ‘All I’ve Got To Lose Is You’ are clear pointers to the future pop classics ahead for the trio.
For anyone interested in the lineage of punk, hardcore and what became known as alternative rock then this early excavation is a must and a fitting tribute to drummer Grant Hart who sadly left the stage for the last time back in September.