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4 September 2017

Hüsker Dü - 'The Living End' (Warner Bros)

We skip ahead to this posthumous live album, the only other Hüsker Dü vinyl I ever accumulated, and quite recently as I came across it in a discount bin earlier this year. This is a great document of the band's final tour, and it's masterfully assembled to sound like one concert, even though it's culled from a variety of recordings. You'd never know - the opening two cuts mirror the opening cuts of New Day Rising and the segue is seamless, even though one was recorded a week before the other. No one ever thinks about this record, much like the Minutemen's Ballot Result, but it's a worthwhile listen, as the recordings are clear, with audible lyrics and a heavy bass thump. Mould is really focused on clear enunciation, especially during the batch of Warehouse songs that follow the opener. It's a great live sound, with some echo thrown on vocals when needed - 'Ice Cold Ice' sounds totally psychedelic during its chorus, and while their dynamic never really lets up from fast and loud, it still provides some variety. As this was the Warehouse tour, it's not surprising that the song choices weigh heavily towards that record and hardly from Candy Apple Grey which was probably a bit played out then, or Zen Arcade. But there's a nice selection from Everything Falls Apart, including 'From the Gut' and 'In A Free Land', broadly spanning the band's career and giving those songs a nice fresh take. What's crazy is that Everything Falls Apart and Warehouse are only separated by four years. Greg Norton also has a song here, 'Everytime', which I guess was a B-side from the time. LP #2 dives into a bit more older material, including a version of 'Books About UFOs' with a scorching guitar solo, and a take on 'Celebrated Summer' that's of course more raw than the studio version, but with Hart's background vocals, attains transcendence. This is still a punk rock band, heard more clearly in 'What's Going On' than any of the earlier material. And that means there's a directness, a fury, and a purity that you can really feel in these live recordings; they're a tight band, but not overly precise, and the crowd is felt more than heard, except between songs a few times. The strangest thing about The Living End (beyond the cover version of 'Sheena is a Punk Rocker', an odd choice for the final cut of a final Hüsker Dü album, though it proves that it's pretty much impossible to cover the Ramones without affecting Joey's accent) is how the songwriting split is almost a perfect 50/50 between Mould and Hart, unlike the records, which were more 75/25. Hart has some fine songs for sure and many of them are represented here, but I think the balance is better on the records. This was done probably to placate the tensions between the two after the split, but even still Wikipedia claims that Mould claims to have never heard this record. I hope the time passed would heal some wounds and he might actually enjoy it now.

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