As news started to break on Saturday morning that soul-singing, pop star Amy Winehouse had passed away at the very young age of 27, I couldn’t help but think that it might be kind of strange to go and see a rock show in only a few hours.
Whether it was that news or the band’s revamped rhythm section (Prince & the New Power Generation member Michael Bland on drums and former Replacement Tommy Stinson on bass complement original members Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner… a veritable Minneapolis music who’s who), Soul Asylum was fired up on Saturday.
The band dug deep into their catalog for some of their faster material to start the show opening with 1988′s “Marionette” and 1990′s “Easy Street.” The show carried a fast pace over the first four songs with the band barely stopping as they continued into the frenetic “Somebody to Shove” while the crowd took over vocal duties for “Misery.”
- Photo taken by Jim Ryan
Death was a theme throughout the set. Lead singer/guitarist Dave Pirner first made the reference to the recently deceased Winehouse when he dedicated the fifth song of the night to her with the band’s performance of “Lately” (a song they released on 2006′s The Silver Lining following the 2005 death of bassist and founding Soul Asylum member Karl Mueller to cancer… a song whose poignant lyrics make it an apt dedication). Later on, Pirner dedicated “Without a Trace” (the finest moment on 1992′s Grave Dancer’s Union) not only to Winehouse but also to Mueller and Bob Stinson (Tommy’s brother and former Replacement who died at the age of 36 in 1995 after years of drug and alcohol abuse).
The band followed up “Without a Trace” with an emotional cover of Vic Chestnutt’s “When I Ran Off and Left Her” (Chestnutt was partially paralyzed after a 1983 car accident and died of an overdose of muscle relaxants in 2009). A few other covers continued the theme. Recently a staple of Soul Asylum live sets, the band’s take on Wyclef Jean’s “Gone ‘Til November” (with lyrics like “… Lifestyles of the rich and famous / Some die with a name, some die nameless) was fitting for this particular show. Tommy Stinson sang lead for the set’s punkiest moment: a rowdy cover of The Who’s “My Generation” closed the hour and a half show.
- Photo taken by Jim Ryan
The last time that I saw the band in April 2010 (a set fraught with tech and sound problems), their performance had its moments but ultimately fell flat. And the difference that night was that Tommy Stinson wasn’t playing bass. I couldn’t tell you who was on bass that night. It really doesn’t matter. Because when a band gets used to playing with a live sparkplug like Thomas Eugene Stinson, it’s hard to accept a substitute. Stinson, through his humorous banter with Pirner, nonstop movement on stage and excellent playing raises the bar. Tommy kept things lose as he playfully jostled Pirner every time the frontman came near him and it was very apparent exactly how well this current incarnation of Soul Asylum gets along.
The band ran through more hits like “Black Gold,” “Runaway Train,” and “Just Like Anyone” (which saw Pirner play a sort of impromptu slide guitar with his beer bottle as Dan Murphy also shredded one of his many solos on the night) but it was the newer material that really shined. ”Lately,” “Whatcha Need,” “Stand Up and Be Strong” (which featured a third guitar player), and “Oxygen” (all four from The Silver Lining) were my favorite parts of the show. The band also performed a rocking new track called “Gravity” that bodes well for the new album the band is said to be nearly finished with.
Having all made it past the age of 27, it’s clear that the band members all very much valued the opportunity to play their songs live on Saturday in Chicago. ”We are so lucky to have this band” said Dan Murphy toward the end of the set as he looked at his bandmates in astonishment. It was impressive to see the band thrive in the live setting with its rejuvenated lineup after last April’s hiccup.
Former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty was on before Soul Asylum. I had never seen him before and was impressed by his live set. Joking with bassist/cellist Scrap Livingston throughout, Doughty at one point regaled the crowd with the story of his excursion to local hot dog stand The Weiners Circle where he was dubbed “Rogaine” by the always harassful staff. While Doughty and three fourths of his band sat for the duration of the set (a definite drawback for those at the back of this large, standing room only, street festival crowd), he made up for that with his intelligence, with and overall engaging demeanor.
- Photo taken by Jim Ryan
Fronting a four man band that featured guitar/vocals, drums, keyboards and bass/cello, Doughty showed his versatility as he performed songs in several different ways: full band (guitar, drums, bass, keys), solo acoustic, and with only a guitar and cello accompanying his vocals.
Opening with “(I Keep On) Rising Up,” Doughty plowed through solo hits like “Busting Up a Starbucks,” “Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well,” and “27 Jennifers.” The highlight of the set though was a very cool rendition of “Madeline and Nine” (a performance consisting only of cello, acoustic guitar and vocals, and keyboard acting as the lead instead of guitar). Early on, Doughty promised to hit a shouted out fan request later in the show… and made good as he began the encore with the appropriate “Train to Chicago.”
Catch Mike Doughty live at House of Blues on Saturday, November 12th. Tickets go onsale today at 10am.