The Band: Dave Pirner (vocals, guitar), Ryan Smith (guitar), Winston Roye (bass) and Michael Bland (drums)
Soul Asylum are back on the road this summer after an extensive cross-country tour supporting their latest release Change of Fortune in 2016. Their Canadian dates have been few and far between over the past decade, but we were lucky enough to catch them on Tuesday night at the Danforth Music Hall for an energetic live show that spanned their 35-year career. Cracker opened the show and got the crowd warmed up with their alt-Americana and crowd-pleasers like “Low” and “Get Off This”. I heard a few people mention they had come specifically for Cracker, so they’ve got quite a substantial fanbase in their own right. Soul Asylum started off with three of their biggest hits, “Somebody to Shove”, “Black Gold” and “Runaway Train”, getting them out of the way early to move on to their more recent material. The focus was on the music as the band played in front of only a black curtains and four stack amplifiers, running back and forth the stage, jumping and head-banging into a frenzy. Lead singer and guitarist Dave Pirner broke up the set with a few jokes and like so many American bands I’ve seen this year in Canada, he made sure to show us where he stands on the current political climate, shouting “Glad you don’t live in Trump town” before breaking into “Doomsday”. Soul Asylum made a name for themselves thanks to their raucous live shows in the early days and they still put on a great performance. Dave tells me it’s probably his favourite part of the job and it definitely shows on the stage.
If you need a refresher, Soul Asylum were a huge part of the alternative rock scene in the 90s with their classic albums Grave Dancers Union (1992), Let Your Dim Light Shine (1995), and Candy From A Stranger (1998). Before that, they were a successful indie band on Twin/Tone Records out of their hometown of Minneapolis (the label is now defunct but you can still contact them on their website to order custom-made CDs of out-of-print releases). If you’re wondering what it was like to be in an indie band in the 1980s, Dave Pirner describes the early days as “many, many nights of living like animals, sleeping in parking lots and on people’s couches, but with a really cool network of other indie bands that you’d run into travelling around America." Sounds a lot like being in an indie band today, except their network included fellow Minneapolis alt-rockers Husker Dü and The Replacements, who were all creating a new aggressive and obnoxious sound that would pre-date the grunge scene in Seattle. Soul Asylum had a practice space above the Twin/Tone office and Husker Dü was right next door. They were on tour opening for The Replacements when they first signed to the label. They would play at a venue called Goofy’s with a strip club on the second floor and some nights the entire audience was made up of members of other bands in the local scene. As it turns out, Minneapolis is very much a punk rock city and Dave recalls that “we slowly found that every town had a little percolating punk rock scene” before grunge exploded in the Pacific Northwest. I wonder out loud why Seattle became the epicentre and Dave muses “maybe it’s the weather.”
Soul Asylum earned a loyal fanbase and were signed to a major label just as the grunge scene started to take off. They reached platinum-level with Grave Dancers Union in 1992, which will see its 25th anniversary this October. They plan to re-release the album along with live recordings and bonus outtakes to celebrate this milestone. Never a band to lean on their 90s nostalgia, Soul Asylum is still working on new material, which Dave says is almost through the writing process. We’re looking forward to seeing a new album sometime in the future, but in the meantime, pick up Change of Fortune to hold you over and catch them at one of their upcoming shows this month.
Dave’s Music To Check Out: Bruise Violet (Minneapolis punk rock), Dessa (Minneapolis hip-hop), TV On The Radio, Sufjan Stevens
July 14 in Marietta, OH at People's Bank Theatre
July 15 in Pickerington, OH at Picktown Palooza
July 18 in Toronto, ON at Danforth Music Hall
July 19 in Albany, NY at Empire Plaza
July 20 in Westbury, NY at The Space
July 21 in Peekskill, NY at Paramount Hudson Valley
July 23 in Englewood,NJ at Bergen Performing Arts Center
July 24 in Brigantine, NJ at Laguna Bar and Grill
July 26 in Port Chester, NY at Capitol Theater