December 17, 2010
First Avenue, Minneapolis
It felt like the early '90s at First Avenue again, as a packed crowd awaited the highly anticipated first show by Soul Asylum at the venue since last December. Mysterious percussion and tool noises came from behind the screen as Soul Asylum opened with "Artificial Heart" from their 1989 Clam Dip and Other Delights. In keeping with the nostalgic opening (perhaps an homage to First Avenue's 40th Birthday?), they tore into a rousing "Marionette," (1988, Hang Time). Along with several familiar songs and a few covers, Soul Asylum performed new songs sounding as good as much of their earlier material.
[jump] The ever-charismatic, wild frontman Dave Pirner, and Dan Murphy on guitar/back-up vocals remain core Soul Asylum bandmates since their Loud Fast Rules beginning. They were joined by bassist Pete Donnelly of opening band, the Figgs, (also a back-up band for regular Soul Asylum bassist, Tommy Stinson). Former Prince stalwarts joining them were longtime Soul Asylum drummer Michael Bland and keyboardist Tommy Barbarella.
Soul Asylum's propulsive, energetic performance was as playful and simultaneously poignant as always; it's their live music performance standard and what we know to expect from all their live shows over nearly three decades. After I moved to the Twin Cities in '90, I saw as many of their live shows as I could. They, and a few others at the time, left an indelible imprint on me regarding what live music could and should be. I can't think of Soul Asylum without recalling them playing an early '90s outdoor show in a tent - Pirner lunging into the air at a tent pole and spinning horizontally around it 360 degrees high-speed, landing gracefully and continuing to perform without pause. They perform with an agile athleticism to this day.
Pirner's dark blonde hair is grown out near its '90s length, ideal for his signature hair-whipping-and-spinning while performing high-energy songs such as "Someone to Shove" and anthemic "All is Well." Pirner, smiling through most of the set, looked delighted to be playing his hometown again. He dedicated songs to friends lost over the years -- "It's Bob Stinson's birthday, today!" led into "Whatcha Need." And of course, he talked about playing First Avenue over the years: "Its always a great time to play here! Happy 40th Birthday, First Ave!" before kicking into a crowd favorite, "Black Gold."
On a more somber note, Pirner announced, as usual, a dedication to original Soul Asylum bassist, Karl Mueller, sadly lost to cancer in 2005, with the song "Leave Without a Trace." He also honored friend Vic Chestnutt, who died last year, by covering his song "When I Ran Off and Left Her." During this, it struck me that Soul Asylum has the killer combination of their guitar skills, a stellar lineup of backing musicians, Pirner's gravelly, emotive vocals, and Pirner and Murray's compelling lyrics, sung at times with a lilting quality belying their depth and gravity, that Soul Asylum hook you and don't let go.
Personal Bias: I was there in the early '90s. I've seen Soul Asylum dozens of times over nearly three decades.
The Crowd: It looked sold-out, could hardly move. Mostly mid-30's - 40s, with a lot of younger people.
Overheard in the crowd: "That shit was hot!" "They have as much energy as ever!"
Random Notebook Dump: More people in a mosh pit than I've seen in a long time. The Christmas tree and lighting on stage added warmth to a set rife with beautiful nostalgic moments. Epic fun.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Nick Wosika, including shots of openers Pink Mink and the Figgs.
Somebody to Shove
All Is Well
Gone Till November
Leave Without a Trace New World
When I Ran Off & Left Her (Vic Chesnutt cover)
I Wish I Was Crazy Again (Johnny Cash)
I Did My Best
Closer to the Stars
Just Like Anyone (with a little Little Drummer Boy)
ENCORE: Mercedes Benz (Janis Joplin)
Summer of Drugs (Victoria Williams)
Stand Up & Be Strong