I was 22 years old back on November 12, 1992 the first time I saw Soul Asylum with The Lemonheads. So it was pretty meaningful last week when I saw them almost exactly 20 years later at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C.
That first show was the second night of Soul Asylum's Grave Dancers Union tour and, from the first row of Mississippi Nights in St. Louis, I was mesmerized by Winona Ryder's boyfriend Dave Pirner (pictured) leading his band through a set that was far more rocking than any fair-weather MTV viewer could guess possible based on their mega-'90s rocking-ballad hits "Runaway Train" and "Black Gold."
Pirner still has the long hair that gives him a slight resemblance to a healthy-era Axl Rose, but any original members of Soul Asylum other than him could not be found on this night. I thought that was going to be a problem, but Justin Sharbono has replaced founding member (and his cousin) Dan Murphy on guitar and performed more than admirably. Those licks must be in the family blood.
Michael Bland, longtime Prince and Paul Westerberg drummer (and Minneapolis legend), pounded the drums in unison with Winston Roye on bass. Soul Asylum is still very loud, especially with blaring numbers like "99%" and "April Fool."
But it was difficult to detect any drop-off from '92 when it came to the shows highlights: "Without a Trace" was undoubtedly the best rowdy pop song the band played. "Somebody to Shove" and "Summer of Drugs" were my other favorites, although it was pretty tough to deny the lovability of the aforementioned "Black Gold" and "Runaway Train."
Soul Asylum: **** out of ***** stars
- (Victoria Williams cover)
That said, the man writes great tunes and any fan of this blog knows that I stand firmly behind claiming he is one of the very best songwriters of the past 30 years. He ripped through a bunch of songs and was entirely pleasant, but not as great as he can be with a full band in a smaller club.
Evan Dando: ***1/2 out of ***** stars
Fountains of Wayne was the headliner. I've always loved this band but this was the first time I've seen them in concert. They too were verging on pleasant but not mind-blowing; however, I headed down from the balcony to the floor and the sound and vibe improved dramatically. The band soon won me over and created many magical moments within their sometimes samey-sounding songs.
But even when the songs sometimes bled into each other, the witty wordplay, talented guitar licks, and heavenly harmonizing kept it fun. Some of my favorite numbers included "I've Got a Flair," "I-95," "Mexican Wine," and "Someone to Love." And, of course, the show ended with crowd-pleasers "Radiation Vive" and "Stacy's Mom."
Fountains of Wayne: ***1/2 out of ***** stars