Dave Pirner of the Minneapolis-based Soul Asylum performs Wednesday night at Metro

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
June 26, 1997

The question after Soul Asylum’s gig Wednesday night at Metro wasn’t, “How were they?” but rather, “Why did they play there?”

Longtime fans were treated to a solid, if unspectacular, 95-minute set from the formidable Minneapolis-based rock group.  But it wasn’t that long ago that the band seemed destined for a brighter future and was sharing headlining status at outdoor festival shows.

While their popularity may have dipped since their 1992 peak, the musicians have a big heart.  Their 10-date mini-tour ends Saturday with a performance at a high school prom in North Dakota. (The band agreed to play after learning that the original prom site had been washed away in floods a few months ago.) The last time Soul  Asylum played a prom was in their video for “Just Like Anyone.”

Accompanied by a keyboardist, the four-man band showcased some newer, hard rocking unmemorable material from its upcoming album.  It was the older, more melodic songs, though, that rang true with the fans at the sold-out concert.

The audience was appreciative, but restrained throughout the first hour. “Misery” got the fans singing along and punching the air with their fists.  But it wasn’t until the group’s spectacular one-two punch of “Just Like Anyone” and “Somebody to Shove” that the fans really woke up.

They jumped on top of each other’s shoulders and body surfed their way to the front of the stage.  And when Dave Pirner screamed, “I need somebody to shove,” they furiously slammed into one another right on cue in that painfully bizarre “dance” known as moshing.

Sterling Campbell’s muscular drumming was the perfect complement to Pirner’s vocals.  He beat his drums with powerful, syncopated precision as Pirner hopped around like a guitar-playing leprechaun. At one point, Pirner got so wrapped up in his own frenzy that he tripped over bassist Karl Mueller’s guitar wires.

As on the last few tours, the band willfully refused to play “Runaway Train,” the mesmerizing 1992 hit single that many critics erroneously predicted would ensure rock star status for the group. Instead, they treated their fans to a four-song encore that included a little Iggy Pop, a funked-up version of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and a deliciously cheesy rendition of Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” that was worthy of a Las Vegas lounge lizard.  Pirner’s exaggerated theatrical gestures fit the nature of the song.

Still, the omission of their hit was a defiant slap in the face to their fans, many of whom were heard grousing about it after the concert.

“They might be sick of it,” one young woman said.  “But it’s not like we get to hear it live every day.”

At its best, Soul Asylum conjures up the manic genius that made the Replacements’ shows such a pleasure to behold. But their set Wednesday was a tad too convoluted to pack the punch that fans are used to getting at their concerts.


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