SOUL PAINIn 1985, some high school friends and I drove to St. Louis to see one of our favorite bands, Minneapolis' Husker Du. (Well, my friends are the ones who actually drove--I didn't have my license yet.) The night is memorable for so many reasons. It was the first time I saw Husker Du live (and when I met Bob Mould recently, he said that the tour I saw was the very peak of the band's live shows). My friends and I got let off by some extremely nice cops for smoking weed in our parked van a couple of blocks from the venue. And I got to meet Chuck Berry, who, for whatever reason, was at a Husker Du show. (One of my most prized possessions is my Husker Flip Your Wig tour shirt signed by Chuck. He put a big smiley face on it, too.) And it was the first time I saw, let alone heard of, another Minneapolis band that opened the show--Soul Asylum. (Those Minneapolitans stick together, don't they?)
Not too many years ago, I found a review I had written about that show at age 16, which read in part: "Openers Soul Asylum showed a lot of promise, but the singer (Dave Pirner) needs to stop screaming so much." See, I know they've become synonymous with an MOR grunge-era equivalent of arena rock, but back in the day, before they wimped out on us (there was a reason they were once called Loud Fast Rules), Soul Asylum not only kicked much ass; they were one of the best live bands of their era. Seriously, trust me, I saw 'em a ton of times, and they were never less than great. Until, that is, their breakthrough album, Grave Dancers Union, set them on a path toward mediocrity (and huge chart success!), from which they never really managed to return. A couple of years ago, the band's bassist, Karl Mueller, was diagnosed with, and eventually lost his life to, throat cancer. Somehow, aging, sickness and death are the great levelers, aren't they? They bring out the humanity in us all (and made me reconsider Soul Asylum's path), and it sucks that that's what it takes to get there, but there we are.
And here Soul Asylum is--back again with a new album, The Silver Lining (Sony, 2006), their first in eight years, which contains some of Mueller's last performances. Believe me, nothing would please me more than to report how great this new album is, how it represents a rising-above-circumstances affair that brought me back into the fold of believers, but I'd be lying. Still, I'd also be lying if I ignored the album's strong points--of which there are a few.
Frankly, a song like album opener "Stand Up and Be Strong" is even more offensive to me than that Rob Thomas song "This Is How a Heart Breaks"--both are tailor-made-for-sports-highlights clips, but at least Soul Asylum was once respectable. Matchbox 20? Not so much. Pirner rubs salt in the wound with trite bullshit like "Crazy Mixed Up World," which is even worse than its title would have you suspect. "All Is Well" sounds like a halfway decent Goo Goo Dolls song (and the Goos ripped off Soul Asylum as much as anyone, so take that however you will). "Lately" is an infectious pop-rock tune that isn't embarrassing, which counts for something here.
At the risk of sounding bitter and curmudgeonly, go out and buy any one of the three albums Soul Asylum released from 1986 to 1988, and you'll see why this new stuff is so bitter going down.
Who knows? Maybe they're still amazing live. While the absence of Mueller amounts to a lump in the throat (seriously, no pun intended), the new touring version of the band, which has former Replacements bassist and current Guns 'N' Roses member Tommy Stinson replacing Mueller, and powerhouse drummer Michael Bland--whose nickname is "The Round Mound of Sound," and whose resume includes Prince and Paul Westerberg--filling the drum stool, is the version that will appear at Hotel Congress this week--all of which sounds promising.
Soul Asylum perform an early show at the outdoor stage of Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14. Tickets are $15. For more info, call 622-8848.
HONORING BLOODTwo shows this week are dedicated to the memory of our dear departed friend Jason "Blood" Mashburn. Both will be documented by his former label, Hairball 8/Psychobilly*US, as part of a CD and DVD paying tribute to him and his band, Demon City Wreckers, who recently announced they have disbanded following his tragic death. All proceeds from both shows, as well as the CD and DVD sales, will go directly to his widow, Ruby. Here, then, is the info about both shows:
Tonight, Thursday, Oct. 12, Skrappy's, 201 E. Broadway Blvd., will host an all-ages show featuring Left for Dead (the original incarnation of Demon City Wreckers), DCW labelmates The Koffin Kats and Stitch Hopeless and the Sea Legs, Chango Malo, The Hollow Bodies and Line of Fire.
On Friday, Oct. 13 (would Jason have wanted a tribute show for himself to fall on any other date than Friday the 13th?), the same lineup, minus The Hollow Bodies and Line of Fire, but plus Al Perry, will pay tribute to Jason at a 21-and-over show at The Surly Wench Pub, 424 N. Fourth Ave.
Cover for each show is a suggested $5 donation. Call 358-4287 for information about the Skrappy's show, and 882-0009 for details about the one at the Surly Wench.
FEST REDUXAnother fall weekend, two more music festivals to tell you about.
One of our feature articles this week is about Cold War Kids, who are performing as part of the Big AZ Music Fest (BAM Fest), but there are plenty more acts both local and national to get excited about performing at the event--even though two of the biggest scheduled acts, The Futureheads and Dengue Fever, were forced to cancel their appearances. As an added bonus, many of the stages are family friendly, too. It all takes place on the stretch of town that starts at University Boulevard, winds its way up Fourth Avenue and ends at venues across downtown, on Saturday, Oct. 14. A single wristband, $8 in advance, $10 on the day of the event, will grant you entry into all participating venues. For full details, visit www.bigazmusicfest.com.
The following day, Sunday, Oct. 15, the Southern Arizona Blues Heritage Foundation hosts the Fall Blues Heritage Festival, which boasts an appearance by headliner Marcia Ball, whose take on R&B-informed Delta blues, the Texas singer-songwriter tradition and rollicking boogie woogie piano playing has made her one of the top names in her genre. Other performers on the bill include Scott Holt; Big Pete Pearson with Bob Corritore and the Rhythm Room Allstars; Leon Kittrell and the Statesboro Blues Band; Hans Olson; The King Bees; and The Apocalypse Horns. To provide further incentive, the entire event, which runs from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center at Reid Park (22nd Street and Country Club Road), is free to all. For more information, point your browser to www.azblues.org.
ON THE BANDWAGONWe're quickly running out of room, and we haven't even told you about these shows yet (not to mention many other worthwhile ones):
In politically desperate times like these, it's nice to have a high-profile friend to speak truth to power; country-folkie Steve Earle is that friend, and he'll be performing an acoustic all-ages show at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Friday, Oct. 13. In tow as opener will be Allison Moorer, and chances are pretty darn good that lefty politico Amy Goodman will introduce them both. Reserved floor seats are $26, while reserved spots in the balcony are going for $24, all available in advance at the venue's box office, www.rialtotheatre.com or by calling 740-1000--the same number to call for additional information.
Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., hosts a trio of backward-looking acts this week that demand attention. The Village Green take their name from a Kinks album, and that should provide a hint about what to expect from these headliners on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Opening the show are The Ettes, a co-ed trio that fuses raucous early punk and beat rock with '60s country sounds (and who come highly recommended by my girlfriend), and The Purrs. For more info on that one, call 622-3535.
Traditional French Gypsy music combo Les Yeux Noirs take their acclaimed act to the stage of the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd., at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14. Reserved seats are $26, available in advance at Antigone Books, CD City and Enchanted Earthworks. For further details, call 297-9133 or head to www.rhythmandroots.org.