Last Night: Soul Asylum At House Of Blues

Soul Asylum House of Blues December 30, 2010

'90s alt-rock mainstays Soul Asylum took the House of Blues stage Thursday night, 18 years after their breakthrough release Grave Dancers Union. Front man Dave Pirner is conceivably regarded as one of the era's most colorful alt-rock personalities, remembered for his signature dreadlocks, torn Spaghetti-O's T-shirts and actress arm candy (then-girlfriend Winona Ryder).

While Pirner, now 46, has since shed his 'locks, it seemed at first glance, that not much else had changed: Still long-haired and unkempt, sporting torn-to-shreds jeans and a baggy T-shirt, Pirner's youthful, energetic spirit was noticeable within seconds.

The Minneapolis quartet has glided relatively under the radar over the past few years, as the decade has dealt them a tough hand; in 2005, bassist and founding member Karl Mueller passed away from throat cancer. The following year, the band released their ninth album, Silver Lining.

After Mueller's death, SA recruited fellow Minnesotan and Guns N' Roses (and former Replacements) bassist Tommy Stinson, who was subbed Thursday by Figgs bassist Pete Donnelly, as GN'R is currently on tour. In addition to original guitarist Dan Murphy, drummer Michael Bland, who has worked with Prince and Paul Westerberg, now rounds out the SA quartet.

The band kicked off their set with "Marionette," a track from their 1988 major-label debut Hang Time. "Somebody to Shove" followed, its memorable opening guitar riff stirring an eager reaction from the crowd. Pirner owned the stage instantaneously, dancing about and hurling his guitar around his body. Judging by his endless energy, the past 20 years haven't fazed him one bit.

"This song is about... Missouri," Pirner playfully quipped, before breaking into 1995 Let Your Dim Light Shine track "Misery." It was the first (but not last) taste of the dry but endearingly funny sense of humor Pirner revealed throughout the set.

SA evenly spanned their lengthy catalogue, hitting nearly every era of their history, including highlights from Silver Lining, like "All is Well," "Lately," and the droll "Whatcha Need." Though lesser-known Hang Time track "Cartoon" seemed to go unnoticed at first, it quickly reeled in the crowd when Pirner veered into a brief cover of Wyclef Jean's "Gone 'Til November."

Though Pirner traded in his raucous electric guitar for an acoustic for the memorable Grave single "Black Gold," it in no way restricted his rocker will, as he and guitarist Murphy literally dropped to their knees side by side during the song's breakdown, trading rumpled guitar solos.

"Here's a song we don't usually play," mused a loquaciously jovial Pirner. We were onto his jokester nature by now; we could guess what was coming. Within the first few seconds of Grammy Award-winning single "Runaway Train," the room became illumninated by the glow of cell phones, cameras, and recorders, the crowd nonverbally communicating their appreciation for a song that undeniably helped define an era.