Soul Asylum and Bruise Violet charge forward through nostalgia at First Ave


Reminiscing and nostalgia are slippery things. We all like to think about “the good ol’ days," but spend too much time dwelling on the past, and it can hobble one’s efforts to move forward into the future.

Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum made it clear last week in City Pages that he isn’t too interested in looking backward. Fans of the Minnesota alt-rock greats, walking past First Avenue's iconic stars ahead of SA's show on Saturday, had other ideas.

“REM! I saw them in 1985.”

“Metallica ... now, that was LOUD.”

Etc., Etc.

Sure, Saturday's opening band Bruise Violet is named after a Babes in Toyland song from 1992, and their sound is very much rooted in the '90s riot grrrl movement. The band’s youthful enthusiasm, though, more than made sure their opening set was anything but stale reminiscing.

Soul Asylum Saturday at First Avenue.

Soul Asylum Saturday at First Avenue.

Guitarist Emily Schoonover, drummer Danielle Cusack, and bassist Bella Dawson are loud enough to crush your eyeballs. Bruise Violet scorched through a compact set that included favorites like “Sketchy Jeff” and “Wasted." BV song “You’re Gone” channeled the spirit of Nirvana’s early '90s track “Molly’s Lips," itself a cover of a 1988 song by the Vaselines.

Nostalgia within nostalgia, friends.

Bruise Violet’s harmonies are always surprising and welcome, particularly on the three-part acapella harmony of “asshole… asshole… asshole…" Pumping the brakes occasionally to talk about their merch and DIY aesthetics (“DIY or die, man!”), the group got the large crowd ready for Soul Asylum with their humor, humility, and burning desire to tear the house down.

Seemingly making good on Pirner’s anti-nostalgia promise, Soul Asylum opened with new single, “Supersonic," and according to the singer/guitarist, “a couple [more] freshies." 

The group’s sonics certainly sounded super during this early part of their set, so it came as a surprise when nostalgia reared its beautiful, welcome head. The band — including Justin Sharbono on guitar, Winston Royce on bass, and Michael Bland on drums — quantum leaped all the way back to 1988 for “Marionette." 

SA ripped through a couple of tracks that helped win them so many fans in the early '90s, namely “Spinnin’" and “Something Out Of Nothing” off of 1990's And the Horse They Rode In On. Back then, those songs made it seem certain that everything was going to be a-OK in the world of rock 'n' roll.

A funny thing about celebrating the past is that it can either tarnish the present and future or enhance it. Luckily, while scratching a lot of itches by playing older material, this reconstituted version of Soul Asylum made new stuff sound pretty damn great. 

Whether it was the weird, skronky vocal effects on the recently released Change of Fortune’s “Make It Real," or the electronic bubbles and effects on the same album’s “When I See You," the past gave some context to the band’s present and future.

Mr. Pirner was in fine spirits the whole evening, whether cracking jokes about bears ordering gin and tonics or dedicating Grave Dancers Union’s “Without a Trace” to “… our dear friend, Karl [Mueller]” — SA's original bassist who died in 2005. 

Also of note: how much Michael Bland bashes the shit out of the drums. He may have been hard to see on the back of the stage, but you could certainly hear him urging the band onward through songs like the slowed-down, slinky version of “Shut Down” and crowd-pleaser “Just Like Anyone,” both off of Let Your Dim Light Shine.

Monster hit of yore “Runaway Train” felt right on the money, and it delighted the SA diehards in attendance, right down to Sharbono’s guitar solo. Royce’s energy throughout the whole set was infectious, too, and his bopping kept the crowd hopping.

Soul Asylum finished off their main set with “Stand Up and Be Strong” off of The Silver Lining, and it was just about perfect. Much, much better than the album version, it transformed into a full-on anthem in First Ave's mainroom. 

Bland added his kick drum to the call for an encore, waving his arm off stage to get his bandmates back up for some more fun. It came, ironically, in the form of “Misery” off of Let Your Dim Light Shine.

Pirner introduced the next song as “a bit of a departure ... our jazz odyssey," and commenced faux-jazz noodling in a very familiar key. When the opening notes of “Somebody to Shove” eventually inspired the crowd to bum-rush the stage, folks young and old were ready to start shoving each other around the floor.

It was an immensely satisfying night of rock 'n' roll. Midway through Soul Asylum’s set, Pirner acknowledged openers Bruise Violet.

“They are a tough act to follow," he admitted. "I know they make me feel like a big wuss. It’s OK. I’m cool with it.”

On Saturday, the past was duly revered, but whether we’re talking about veterans like Soul Asylum or the new rock 'n' roll blood in Bruise Violet, the future felt bright.