Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Soul Asylum - keeps on chooglin'

Soul Asylum

Man, I remember when those words used to mean something...

I have tix for their gig tomorrow night here at The Great American Music Hall, and fear the worst, even though they've long been a fave of mine...

They are flogging a new middle of the road album, supposedly mourning the dead bass player while touring with just two original members, and I guess are kinda like the Who or many other rock dinosaurs on the state fair circuit I suppose...

I appreciate that they are stil rolling of course, even if I ain't feeling the this new album much...

Soul Asylum - Stand Up & Be Strong

I saw that one of their gigs this summer was literally at the Mid America Rib Fest. I suspect someone must have some mortgage payments due...

Anyhow, here's some Soul Asylum tunes from an earlier era, and a little of my morose memory lane rambling...

(portions of which first appeared here last year when Karl Mueller their bassist died)

When I heard that Soul Asylum's bassist Karl Mueller passed away at age 41 in 2005 from throat cancer I was a bit stunned. I actually saw it on some blog called "Pimps of Gore" (well, sheeeeeeeeet, Karl woulda found some irony in that I'm sure...)

But ultimately, damn, it was a real bummer, a reminder to enjoy all of life's fleeting moments. I had no idea how seriously ill he was...

In the fall of 2004, apparently Soul Asylum had a reunion to raise money for Mueller's health care bills in Minneapolis and I didn't hear about it til Karl was already way past the point of helping.

Oh well, aside from buyin' a ticket, there's not much I coulda done I s'pose so I don't resent not being contacted personally...although they were a band that made everything seem personal.

From their low key friendly midwestern banter backstage & even onstage, to their touching music that bordered on incredible on the right nights.

I first saw 'em open for Husker Du in D.C at the old 9:30 on F St in Feb of 85 and they just tore the roof off the sucker and make Mould & Hart look like lazy fat guys. I was a teenage runaway, and after trying to sneak in twice , I reluctantly droppped my last 10 bucks at the door and got my money's worth in the first 15 minutes.

I went and saw em again a month or so later at some weird gay disco called The Eastside Club, and there were like 5 people there besides them. But man, they played that show just as fiercely as the packed one a few months prior and had a great time despite the dismal turnout. I was hooked, I bought the 7" single, the Times Incinerator cassette outtakes with Mueller gleefully singing James Brown's Hot Pants, the EPs , the new albums, and even the old albums like "Say What You Will Clarence, Karl Sold The Truck" etc.

Soul Asylum - Long Day (First track from their first LP on Twin Tone circa 1984, recorded shortly after changing their name from Loud, Fast Rules. Hosted courtesy the always cool PostPunkJunk.com)

As much I wish I coulda been some use to them over the years, they pretty much had it covered. Hi energy stage show, intense personal tunes, and a work ethic that took them through every podunk bar in the country twice.

poster i made circa 1988

I caught a greyhound & moved here to San Francisco where I'd just show up early at various venues and bug 'em, especially if I was broke. To get in free I'd load their gear (and laugh at their jokes while I drank their beer). I'd loiter and wait at the Mab, Berkeley Square or wherever they were playing cuz there'd be lotsa stories and good humor, & more beers. I began noticing as they came around, they had upgraded to rental vans, and seemed things must be looking up. Some local kids had even screen printed up their own t-shirts, with just the enigmatic words "Dave" below a black & white live shot of Pirner in one of his classic headbanging moments...

I tried to get the band some press once, but Twin Tone sold their contract to A&M and Maximum Rock & Roll wouldn't publish my interview piece. Instead, Kerrang the metal mag sent a photographer and took pictures of them on the stairs of the old I-Beam on Haight Street. I plyed pinball with Pirner, and while a photographer with his own lights set up, he told me his band was his only option left, since he was to old to join the army.

From the melted Eagles tape on their dashboard to Dave Pirner's ripped t-shirts & jeans and Dan Murphy's baseball jerseys, to their voices just passionately wailing at the top of their lungs above the guitar drenched din. It was amazing to see circa 1985-1989 and something I'll never forget. Someday I'll get around to posting a crazy video clip I edited of footage from my Friend Lou of those guys at The Rathskeller in Boston blasting through Closer to The Stars from one of those last indie hurrah's called While You Were Out.

This track represents the band nearing a creative and energetic apex, it was included on the album While You Were Out, released in 1986, their last full length LP for Twin Tone. After this album, they left indie rock behind, and began an ambituous period of working with Herb Alperts label A&M records.

Soul Asylum - Closer To The Stars

Soul Asylum - While You Were Out CD

At some point someone at A&M decided to pump up the band with a 12" radio airplay single of their Hang Time record, but to this day no one can barely remember the A side, it was the B side recorded at The Roxy in LA That put the band on the college radio map for good...

The James at 16 Medley which incorporates everything from The Godfathers "Birth School Work Death" to Buffalo Springfield, Ted Nugent, Prince & Wild Cherry cribs. Long before we had Mash Up DJs & Me First & The Gimme Gimmes , we had Soul Asylum... kickin down thirteen covers in just over eleven minutes and that was all we needed man...

Here it is culled of some old creakly vinyl, featuring the amazing late Karl Mueller, here's a live cover medley recorded at The Roxy in LA in 1987... It was used as b-side of a 12 inch promo single of he track Standing In The Doorway, which was part of the push for their first major label record Hang Time.

Soul Asylum - James at 16 Medley

Hear the late bass player Karl Mueller's rarely heard singing voice belting out the Prince cover tune "The Cross". Next up is track from Hang Time that Dan Murphy ( now also of Golden Smog) sang & wrote that has long been a live set favorite. Apparently the band are playing it in their sets this year, and I really look forward to hearing it.

Soul Asylum - Cartoon

The Village Voice & Spin magazine called them the best live act in the US in the late 80's, and things could only get brighter...

But rumor had it that A&M brass weren't sure what to do with the band, and got pissed off when their recording sessions were too loud at the old Chaplin soundstage studios lot in Hollywood.

When the two A&M records they released into a hair metal sea failed to generate sales growth in the platinum range, Soul Asylum were unsummarily dropped, and their bassist Karl went back to washing dishes in the Minneapolis club they were used to headlining. Ironically it was at this time that a resurgence in rock's gritty alternative underbelly was starting to shake up the industry, and as the "grunge" sound swept up the charts, a certain band from Minneapolis was woodshedding.

By the time Sony picked up the band, the demos circulating showed a further refining and outright mellowing of the tunes. Pirner was leaning towards an even folksier style, with less feedback & fuzztone, and even some vaguely romantically charged balladeering.

Seems they had matured, and somehow a year after getting dropped by A&M, were signed to Sony and reording with some studio pros in NYC.

During the hiatus, Pirner got all extra sensitive, and let his inner hippy shine through more...

Despite my mixed feelings about the lack of barnburners on the breakthrough disc, one cannot doubt the creative & commercial merits of the record. Released on Sony in 1992, at the height of Nirvana-mania, Grave Dancers Union, largely pulled the band out of the grunge ghetto and made them radio friendly stars. The first single, Somebody To Shove didn't really catch on, but the followups , Black Gold & especially Runaway Train became MTV faves, and cemented the band in the public memory.

Soul Asylum - Black Gold

Gone were most of the pranks and cheesy covers eating up half a set, and in was the cover of Rolling Stone, a Hammond B-3 player and the singer's movie star girlfriend with tix to the Oscars.

Seemed as quickly as they arose, they had just disappeared, and left just when the going got good. Instead of flying the flannel Pirner complained of hearing loss, and switched drummers & made the new one sit in a plexi glass box.

They put out a video that featured those runaway kids, and the next thing ya know they are double platinum and the first rock band to play on the White House lawn!

I myself began to lose interest, as the world discovered my teenage faves, I felt somewhat left out of the parade, and watched as the group began drifting away from the things I truly held dear. There were always good tunes on the records, but the live shows were no longer at intimate venues, and chances to haul their gear, drink beer, play pinball and shoot the shit with them as regular guys were over.

The madding crowds, and even papparazzzi were there, what with Pirner dumping his longtime gal back home for pill poppng movie starlet Winona Ryder. They toured relentlessly still, just the venues cost closer to $30 and up to get in, instead of $5 or $10, and the bills were no longer with cool idiesque bands like Blake Babies, Mojo Nixon or The Gear Daddies, but detestable schlock like Matchbox 20 and the Spin Doctors.

Live they still could entertain a crowd, but the hits were getting more predicable, and damn Pirner was getting sappy too. It seemed Dave "chief raincloud" Pirner had led Soul Asylum into a brick wall of public disinterest and they basically petered out on the charts in '98. Their last Sony album Candy From A Stranger barely registered on the radio radar and dropped off the Sound Scan just days after release. Most suspicious was the weak wheezing and yelping from the former fireball Pirner that sounded suspiciously like an Eddie Money/James Taylor outtake collection.

I missed the jubilance and goofiness, such as this cover of a Wyclef song about life on the road, actually featuring Wyclef, but generally the flava was leaving the train station if ya know what I mean...

Soul Asylum - Gone Til November w/ Wyclef Jean

I haven't picked up the new record yet, but the tunes I've heard, and most reviews suggest I ain't missing much. I am looking forward to catching the group live again though...as their sts wil include a few chestnuts from what I consider their finest years, before the hype and hubbub made them into something altogether different.

Sony, in a classic spurt of a day late & a dollar short finally released a live album in 2005 of a concert from 1997 that the band played for a high school prom in a flood damaged part of North Dakota.

The band opens up the set by ripping into School's Out by Alice Cooper, and besides playing their own hits & near misses they toss in some other covers like Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell, Johnny Nash's I Can See Clearly Now, Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, Smokey Robinson's The Tracks Of My Tears & Lulu's To Sir with Love...

click to purchase : SOUL ASYLUM
After The Flood: Live From The Grand Forks Prom
recorded live 6/28/97
Soul Asylum - After The Flood: Live From The Grand Forks Prom June 28, 1997 CD


Anonymous said...

Don't despair. Saw them in NYC and live they still have a great energy. The new songs also come across much better live than on the album. It seems last two albums were scrubbed much too clean to truly reflect Soul Asylum.

Merlin said...

Love your site. I included it on one of my favorites on my site. Check it out since we love the same stuff.

scribbledaway said...

I saw them in Boston, and it was good. Not quite as energetic as 10 years ago, but definitely them. How'd you like the show you saw? Did you come away ok?