Local Current Blog

Behind First Avenue’s Stars: Hüsker Dü

2015 marks First Avenue’s 45th year of hosting stellar shows in the heart of Minneapolis. We are on a mission to tell the stories of performers whose names decorate the venue’s iconic Wall of Fame. Past features include Babes in Toyland, Har Mar Superstar, and OutKast. In the spirit of milestones, next up are Minnesota natives and punk rock legends Hüsker Dü. Bob Mould’s upcoming Jan. 30 concert falls on the 30th anniversary, to the day, of one of Hüsker Dü’s Mainroom shows—a show celebrating the release of New Day Rising. (Click here for more information on Mould’s First Ave shows on Jan. 30 and 31; and click here to hear Bob Mould talk about the shows.)

From the streets of St. Paul, guitarist/vocalist Bob Mould, bassist Greg Norton, and drummer/vocalist Grant Hart united in 1979 to create one of the most popular and influential bands ever to emerge from the Twin Cities. Shifting styles from hardcore to alternative, the group released six studio albums including critically acclaimed Zen Arcade and New Day Rising. Grappling with drinking, drugs, and disagreements, the threesome called it quits in 1987. Mould and Hart continued with solo musical careers while Norton focused his energies in the restaurant business.

Reviewing the January 30, 1985 show for the Minnesota Daily, Steven Perlstein described the night as “65 minutes of pure energy—this was not a concert for anyone with a weak heart or sensitive ears.” Multiple encores produced weird and wonderful covers from the Byrds to the Beatles. Dave Pirner, lead singer of Soul Asylum, even leapt on stage and sang for a few numbers. The evening eventually peaked with Hüsker Dü’s rendition of the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme. “It was beautiful, watching hundreds of fans in leather and mohawks slam dancing to the strains of ‘You’re going to make it after all’ blasted at 200 decibels.” The entire set was professionally filmed, with two songs ultimately appearing on the ’87 Giorno video compilation “It’s Clean, It Just Looks Dirty.”

Brothers Bill and Ernest Batson of the Mighty Mofos (previously the Hipsters) have proudly attended nearly every Hüsker Dü performance at First Avenue—however, their initial run-in with the trio was from the other direction. “They were actually throwing bottles at us while we were opening for the Ramones the first time the Ramones played there,” recalls Ernest. A quick confrontation with the rambunctious crew resulted in friendships and regular performances together at First Ave.

“We did Monday night concerts at Uncle Sam’s back then,” explains Bill, using the name that First Avenue formerly went by. “It would be us—the Hipsters, Hüsker Dü, and Man Sized Action, to name a few. We would bring in a PA, and we were learning how to play First Avenue, basically. This was when [First Avenue was] changing over from disco to live music. We were some of the guinea pigs.”

Those Monday night sessions ensured plenty of time for horsing around. This particular punk band network boasted many fans of professional wrestling (Mould even had a stint as a World Champion Wrestling scriptwriter), resulting in a free-for-all brawl one night in the Entry after a Hüsker Dü show. All in good fun, Mark Engebretson, lead singer of the Silverteens, “hit Bob Mould with a flying dropkick,” Ernest recalls. “Bob fell on the floor in the Entry with all the beer and broken glass. As soon as I saw Mark do the dropkick, I thought, I’m just gonna watch this—from way back here. We helped him up, though [laughs].”

Bill executed his fair share of wrestling moves over the years as Hüsker Dü’s stage monitor and stand-in security guard, frequently clotheslining fans off the stage. “It would get very rowdy—sometimes there would be 40 people on stage dancing or diving off. There’s Bob Mould with one guitar, and there’s guys hugging him with the guitar between them. And he’s trying to shove them off with one hand and getting hit in the face with his microphone with the other.”

To be fair, it was outright impossible to keep a calm audience with such a furious force radiating from the stage. “[Grant was] just a blur on the drums,” describes Ernest. “The guitar—Bob Mould played with very light strings—he put silicone on them so he could play very quickly. It was just a wall of sound. Musically, it would be an onslaught. They were all very intense. Bob would play staring straight up at the ceiling.”

“They would come out and it was fast and loud—really fast and really loud,” adds Bill. “They were pretty much the hardest-working band I ever saw on stage. Even if they were torn out and worn out, they still put everything they could into that show.”

In their eight years of extensive touring, Hüsker Dü knocked out a total of 15 shows in the Mainroom. Despite both their national and international voyages, First Ave remained their steady cornerstone. “First Avenue was home base—it was always a lot of love,” explains Bill. “What was great about touring with Hüsker Dü was you could go around the country, and you’d be going to clubs really, really similar to First Avenue and you could be really proud ‘cause, man—First Avenue beats every damn one of them.”

Thanks to Leif Larsen for above flyer.

Selena Carlson is currently tackling a double major in journalism and music business at Augsburg College. In addition to writing, she is an avid enthusiast of all things banjo; biking; and breakfast for dinner.

  • Jonathan

    New Day Rising, New Day Rising…

  • funoka

    Nice story — One quibble — Bill was in The Hypstrz — you can still pick up their Live at the Longhorn on Amazon and other places.

  • Greg Norton makes restaurants in Red Wing where I’m living right now