Soul Asylum at First Avenue, 7/20/12
Photo by Steve Cohen
First Avenue, Minneapolis
July 20, 2012
With the tragedy in Aurora still weighing heavy on the hearts and minds of those assembled at First Avenue Friday night, you could have forgiven Soul Asylum if their set was a little somber. But, after being introduced by Congressmen Keith Ellison (who was surprisingly greeted with a smattering of boos mixed in with his ovation), Soul Asylum hit the stage running, delivering a lively 90-minute, 22-song set that featured hits from throughout their nearly 30-year career, as well as plenty of new tracks from their just-released Delayed Reaction, and a surprising collection of covers. All of which further cemented the band's celebrated place in both the past and present Twin Cities music scene.
Photo by Steve Cohen
The band wasted little time kicking things into high gear, launching their set with a raucous cover of Generation X's "Your Generation" which immediately let the full-house know that this was going to be a boisterous rock 'n' roll show and we should check our cares at the door. Frontman Dave Pirner then made the first of many audibles to the printed setlist, multiple copies of which he would crumple up and throw away throughout the show. Pirner and guitarist Dan Murphy led the group (which now features former Prince band member Michael Bland on drums and Winston Roye filling in for Tommy Stinson on bass) through a spirited version of "Just Like Anyone," which kept the energy level high both on the stage and throughout the packed club.
The Hang Time classic "Marionette" kept the performance rolling along, followed by the first new song of the night, "Pipe Dream," which fit right in alongside the rollicking other numbers, augmented by the keyboard flourishes of former New Power Generation/Greazy Meal member Tommy Barbarella. After returning to Hang Time for a rowdy run through of "Little Too Clean," the band launched into the current single "Gravity," replacing the polished restraint of the studio version with an amped up and anthemic live rendition that was clearly one of the early set highlights.
Photo by Steve Cohen
Pirner was possibly wearing the same torn jeans he was sporting when I last saw the band at First Avenue in the mid-'90s, and when he picked up an acoustic guitar before "Black Gold," it was like everyone in the club went through a time warp. But Pirner had to get a few things settled first, asking "Could you go a little easy on the lights?" Then mentioning, "I got nothing coming out of this, people," as he tried to play a few chords on his acoustic. He would have problems with his guitars throughout the show, which caused him to throw most of his energy and attention to singing and entertaining the crowd, leaving Murphy to handle the riffs, which he tackled vigorously.
At the start of "Black Gold," it just seemed like a tired rehash of a once-moving song, but midway through, both Dave and Dan dropped to their knees to lock in on the melody, and from that point the track exploded to life, and the older crowd responded in kind. Pirner then went on to affectionately introduce the next song, "This is by the late, great Vic Chesnutt," as the band delivered an impassioned cover of Vic's wistful ode, "When I Ran Off And Left Her." It was a tender tribute to a talented songwriter who the band clearly loves and are still influenced by.
Here is where the set got a little weird. In between serviceable but by no means extraordinary new songs "By the Way," "The Streets," and "Into the Light," the band threw in a surprising cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which found Dave in fine baritone vocals before he left the stage towards the end while the band carried on the haunting song's evocative, familiar melody. To set their new songs alongside these classic covers was a bold move, and gave the middle of the set a strange pacing and uneven potency.
Photo by Steve Cohen
Things picked up when the group dusted off their own bona fide hits, as dynamic versions of "Without a Trace," "Runaway Train," "Closer to the Stars," and "Somebody to Shove" all injected some life into the later portion of the performance, with the vintage anthems still sounding as vital and galvanizing as ever. They even threw in an untamed cover of the Suicide Commandos' "Attacking The Beat" for those old school Minneapolis music fans in the audience, who roared their approval. The main set closed with a unifying, uplifting version of "Stand Up and Be Strong," which sent the band off to a thunderous ovation.
The proceedings got interesting once again during the encore, as Dave continued to be frustrated by guitar issues, and swilled from his red Solo cup as he led the group through a soulful cover of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' delicate masterpiece, "Into My Arms." It was stunning, and yet another shocking cover from the band. And they stuck to the cover theme throughout the encore, ending the night with a riotous run through of MC5's "Shakin' Street," which brought the rambunctious set to a close.
After all these years, Soul Asylum certainly don't have anything left to prove to the music fans of the Twin Cities, but on Friday night at First Avenue, they definitely played like it, as they boldly began a new chapter in their long, storied history with many longtime fans who have been with them from the start.
Personal Bias: I bought all of Soul Asylum's records through Let Your Dim Light Shine, but then fell off until recently. But their always entertaining live show will continually have my attention.
The Crowd: A full-house that certainly skewed older than most, but still filled with fans who were there to have a good time on a Friday night.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Dave and Dan look almost exactly the same as the last time I saw them in 1996."
Random Notebook Dump: While many fans might have been irritated with the guitar issues that plagued Pirner throughout the show, I thought when he threw his electric guitar down in disgust during "Closer To The Stars" actually brought some incensed edge to the song, as well as the rest of the performance, with Dave's vocals only benefiting from his tempered focus.
Your Generation (Generation X)
Just Like Anyone
Little Too Clean
When I Ran Off And Left Her (Vic Chesnutt)
By The Way
Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division)
Into The Light
I Did My Best
Without A Trace
Closer To The Stars
Attacking The Beat (The Suicide Commandos)
Somebody To Shove
Stand Up And Be Strong
Into My Arms (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds)(Encore)
Shakin' Street (MC5)(Encore)
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