Concert Review: The 16th Annual New Years Eve Rock 'N' Roll Ball (with Soul Asylum setlist)

Concert Review: The 16th Annual New Years Eve Rock 'N' Roll Ball (with Soul Asylum setlist)

Monday night in Rosemont, part of one of the longest running New Year’s Eve celebrations in Chicagoland, Soul Asylum capped 2012 and rang in 2013 with a little help from Miles Nielsen & The Rusted Hearts, Hairbanger’s Ball and more live from the InterContinental O’Hare Chicago…

Featuring live music on three stages in three different rooms, the sixteenth annual “Rock ‘N’ Roll Ball” was a logical choice for ABC-7 to center it’s annual live New Year’s Eve broadcast.  Anchors Mark Giangreco and Janet Davies reported as both Miles Nielsen & The Rusted Hearts, and later Soul Asylum, performed behind them live onstage at the InterContinental O’Hare.  Plied with four hours of open bar, revellers weren’t exactly shy, making the most of the cameras front and center. 

I’ve generally avoided the big hotel blowouts that permeate the Chicago New Year’s landscape in the past.  But after talking with Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner last week, I was excited to see the band’s new lineup.  Plus, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Miles Nielsen (And it juts so happens I enjoy the occasional open bar).  So I decided to hop on the Blue Line and check this one out.

One of my biggest fears heading into the open bar event was long lines.  But everywhere you looked there was either a beer cart or a bar.  In fact, they were hard to avoid.  So this was a pleasant surprise.  Getting a drink was a breeze and the event was incredibly well run.  Even at last call, I literally didn’t have to wait for a drink.  It’s hard to imagine how the process could’ve been better for those who ponied up for the V.I.P. treatment.

I started my evening with Your Hero My Villain.  The five piece cover band offered up their take on the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys duet “Empire State of Mind” early in the set.  Vocalists J. Lee (Jennifer Knuth) and Young Zigg/AKA Mr. Wilder (Zarif Wilder) switched off on vocals upping the ante later with a spirited rendition of the Rihanna/Calvin Harris collaboration “We Found Love,” closing a high energy set chalk full of hits delivered rapid-fire and with no shortage of sex appeal. 

From there, it was on to see Miles Nielsen.  Having performed frequently throughout the area of late at venues like Fitzgerald’s, SPACE and Double Door, I was excited to finally catch the Rockford native with his four piece backing band The Rusted Hearts.  While it’s tough to initially write about Nielsen without mentioning the fact that he’s the son of Cheap Trick founder Rick Nielsen, it’s far more important to point out that he’s managed to forge a unique musical identity based upon strong songwriting and solid playing augmented in the live setting by his fierce band (multi-instrumentalist Adam Plamann was particularly impressive  moving deftly from organ to saxophone and back throughout the hour long set).  I hadn’t seen Nielsen since his days with Harmony Riley… so it’s been a while. 

Less Beatles than I expected, and closer to something like The Redwalls, The Rusted Hearts delivered a heavy dose of roots rock/Americana.  Opening their set with the sunny pop of “Sirens,” the band moved onto “Overrated” where Plamann was radiant on keyboards. 

Nielsen (recovering from a ruptured achilles) sat down to sing and play guitar for the duration of the set but it never affected the band’s energy.  Due largely in part to Plamann on saxophone, the band stayed pretty true to the original on INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart,” eventually kicking it up a notch for “Hey Hey Hey” before closing with a cover of Cocker covering The Beatles on “With a Little Help From my Friends.” 

Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner - Live at the 16th Annual New Year's Eve Rock 'N' Roll Ball in Rosemont - 12.31.12
Photo by Jim Ryan

As the clock wound down on 2012, Soul Asylum hit the stage at 10:45PM, the Chicago area debut of a new lineup that features Justin Sharbono on guitar and Winston Roye on bass (following the recent departures of Tommy Stinson and founding member Dan Murphy).  As they’ve been known to do, the band set the tone early opening the show with one of their most high energy numbers, “Somebody to Shove.”  Having recently celebrated the twentieth anniversary of their breakthrough album Grave Dancer’s Union with a full performance of it in Minneapolis, Monday’s show featured several from the album as well (“Somebody to Shove,” “Black Gold,” “Runaway Train,” “Without a Trace” and “April Fool” were all performed).

Otherwise, the set was comprised primarily of material from the band’s two most recent releases:  2006’s The Silver Lining (“Lately,” “Whatcha Need,” “Stand Up and Be Strong” and “Oxygen”) and July’s Delayed Reaction (“Gravity,” “Pipe Dream,” “The Streets,” “Into the Light” and “By the Way”).  Much to the thrill of longtime fans, several rarities and deep cuts also made the set, most notably “Can’t Even Tell” (originally found on the soundtrack to the Kevin Smith film Clerks). 

With time running out on 2012, it was back to 1986 for one of the set’s highlights in a raucous, hurried version of “Made to Be Broken” that captured the essence of the band’s original punk rock spirit.  Following a brief countdown for the local ABC broadcast, Pirner led an endearingly sloppy version of “Auld Lang Syne” that eventually made it’s way into “Stand Up and Be Strong.” 

Highlights elsewhere in the set included a fast paced, extended guitar duel between Pirner and Sharbono (Murphy’s cousin) to close out “Just Like Anyone.”  Pirner’s dedication of “Without a Trace” to original bassist and founding Soul Asylum member Karl Mueller (who died of cancer in 2005) was also noteworthy.  “Happy New Year, Karl.  I know you’re with me” said the frontman.

Incredibly, Hairbanger’s Ball had a much larger crowd across the hall as they worked their way ably through a setlist of covers featuring Bon Jovi and the like.  But overall, the new Soul Asylum lineup was strong and demanded to be heard (at it’s best musically courtesy of the searing guitar and extended jam on the aforementioned “Just Like Anyone,” the strongest example of just what this band could be capable of as it continues to gel).  Drummer, Michael Bland sets the tone, pushing Pirner in the direction of Soul Asylum’s more aggressive material while Pirner keeps the train from veering off the tracks. 

“I feel really, really good about it.  And I don’t feel like it’s anything other than better than ever” Pirner told me with what seemed to be absolute sincerity when asked about the future of Soul Asylum.  And given the strength of the new material from Delayed Reaction and the band’s apparent chemistry over such a short period of time, it was hard to argue otherwise Monday night in Rosemont.

Soul Asylum setlist 12.31.12
Soul Asylum setlist 12.31.12


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