Do you remember Grant Hart?
Ex-Husker Du drummer alone and in person at the Garage
Grant Hart, former drummer of hardcore band Husker Du, performing solo at the Garage, has mellowed considerably in his later years. (photo by Ryan Snyder)
The Grant Hart of todayis a far cry from the manin the beat seat of one ofthe most vicious and vitalhardcore bands of thegenre’s infancy. He’s mellowedconsiderably in hispersona, his productivityand his creative aesthetic,though none of thoseoutcomes is a surprise toHusker Du fans from theMetal Circus days. Hartwas always the sunny foil to Bob Mould’sterse hostility, more concerned with hooksthan hatchets, and therivalry between thetwo was what inevitablylet to their acrimoniousdissolution 23years ago this month.Now, as a primarilysolo performer, Harthas all but put awaythe hard stuff thatengendered them tothe perpetually uncoolof the ’80s. While abigger noise was beingmade 75 minutesdown I-40 with theunannounced reunionof Archers of Loafat the Cat’s Cradle,it was just as easy tofeel cool sitting in theGarage and taking in asolo set by one of theChapel Hill noise popicons clearest influences. Though it’s clear thatHart’s best days are inthe rear-view — savefor an extremely unlikely but potentially lucrativereunion — the frail-looking punk iconwith scraggly black hair and a John Waters-inspiredmustache has cobbled together anoteworthy, if highly erratic, life after punk.His short performance before a small audienceSaturday night at the Winston-Salem clubreached into all eras of his mostly unheraldedcareer, from made-over Husker Du-classicsto his underrated solo works that hint at post-Bakersfield and Rust Belt folk.Though Hart’s set was mostly just him anda coral-toned Epiphone Archtop, he was precededand accompanied briefly by an overlycasual Chapel Hill power pop trio called theVenables, a band that behaved a bit like threemiddle-aged poker buddies rehearsing, ironically,in someone’s garage. They acknowledgedtheir predilection toward random stagebanter by mentioning a Washington Postassessment which addressed it as less thankindly, though they seemed unphased by thecriticism, even if it was accurate. On songslike “Remains To Be Seen” and “You’re theReflection of the Moon on the Water,” theirsound was big and robust, their accompanimentpointed and their enthusiasm to playwith a man who helped shape their sound wassincere, even if the bassist’s posturing wasneedlessly distracting at times. The seemed tooeager to please while trying too hard to conveyambivalence in that regard, and the bassist’swandering around stage to collect gear whileHart played on didn’t help the cause either. Hart’s punk attitude, on the other hand,might have weathered with age, but stillmanifests itself in amusing ways. He rebuffedcalls for “Diane” after soliciting the crowdfor requests, implying that people wouldnever want to hear that song again were theyto become more aware of the ghastly storybehind it. It somehow felt more appropriateseeing him perform alone, as if Hart is sodetached from the rest of the music-makingworld that it’s inconceivable to imagine himin any other arrangement. Occasional misstepswere amplified, such as his fudging ofthe opening chord to “Green Eyes” and itsensuing reboot. Reappropriated Hart-pennedHusker Du gems like “The Girl Who LivesOn Heaven Hill” breathed with new life in hishands, and his original “What’s A Little AngelDoing So Far From Heaven” was almost toosoulful to have come from the man who cowrote“Masochism World.” The further Hart got into his 80-minute set,though, the more time one was allowed toponder the overwhelming sense of desperationthat must surely accompany playing fora room of 40 people for only $7 apiece. Mostartists with Hart’s credentials might find themselveslocked in interminable despair at sucha prospect, pleading that they deserve better.Grant Hart might just deserve better, but onewith such a beleaguered past as his also knowsbetter, and that’s pretty cool.