The mere mention of Soul Asylum should hit twentysomethings with a wave of nostalgia.
Think back to the days of early-’90s alternative, a time when the Spin Doctors ruled the charts with “Two Princes” and the only shirts you wore to school were plaid. Grave Dancer’s Union
, Soul Asylum’s sixth album, had just dropped, and the scrappy Minnesotans scored four hits, including “Runaway Train.” No a small feat for a group virtually unknown to the mainstream beforehand.
Fast forward 13 years to tonight’s show at the Bowery Ballroom. It’s the band’s return after the death of founding member/bassist Karl Mueller. Even though Grave Dancer’s Union has aged nicely, I hadn’t expected a packed house for a band that’s basically been AWOL since 1995’s Let Your Dim Light Shine. Striding onstage, singer/guitarist Dave Pirner, lead guitarist Dan Murphy and the perfect “replacement” bass player, Tommy Stinson, blew through “Bittersweetheart,” not looking any older or sounding less energetic than they did in their heyday. Next came the hit, “Misery,” with its infectious chorus—“frus-TRAY-ted in-cor-por-RAY-ted!” The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd loved every note of it, singing the hook without Pirner’s help. And Pirner and Murphy’s dual-guitar explosion is still alive and well; it’s incredible how fresh Soul Asylum still sounds ten years later.
Pirner takes a few moments to address the crowd: “[This is] one of my ‘I hate f---ing Bush trilogy.’” He and Murphy then connect guitars and launch into the descending intro of “Black Gold,” which still chills to the bone with the lyric, “Mother, do you know where your kids are tonight?” “Somebody to Shove” still has the angsty, anxious forward motion that made it a hit on alternative radio back in the day.
Tommy Stinson elicits high praise from the crowd all night, pounding away at his bass, intermittently swaying its neck, leaning against Pirner like Page on Plant, making his best rock ’n’ roll faces at the crowd, and schmoozing with Murphy. The fellow Minnesota native’s gritty playing and persona fit the band perfectly.
The set closes with the hard-rocking “Just Like Anyone,” which leaves the crowd in sweaty shambles, weary on a school night nearing 11:00 p.m. Late at night, a realization sets in. The time has come to add a few more Soul Asylum records to my CD collection.