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Live review: Soul Asylum, and the ability to pull off smooth nostalgia, 09.30.13 @ the Paradise

 

In the early-‘90s, Soul Asylum were one of the biggest bands in the world. Whoever Bill Clinton enlisted to oversee trivial decisions (he was too busy making sure Americans could all find gainful employment and getting blow jobs) handpicked Soul Asylum for the first White House performance of Slick Willy’s administration, kicking off the most rockin’ ‘n rollin’, blow job-fueled U.S. presidencies in history. Later, Winona Ryder, without question the most significant move star of her generation, decided singer Dave Pirner was so pretty that Reality Bites wouldn’t succeed unless he made a cameo. Soul Asylum even won a Grammy for what’s not even their best single. (That would be “Just Like Anyone.” For that matter, almost every song on ‘95’s Let Your Dim Light Shine trumps the Grammy-winning “Runaway Train.”)

Monday night, Pirner and Co. played a half-full Paradise, opening for Fountains of Wayne, following a set from Evan Dando who, perhaps serendipitously, was also in Reality Bites.

Does this mean Soul Asylum are washed up? Well, nowadays, Pirner kinda looks like a slender version of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, and when they get mentioned in the media, it’s because someone thinks they overstepped their bounds by recording “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

 
 

Clearly, Soul Asylum are washed up.

But perhaps the phrase “washed up” doesn’t carry the same connotations of finality it once did. Compared to what almost every other band on the planet draws, a half-full Paradise on a Monday is actually very good! Any artist who had a hit song in the ‘90s, and Soul Asylum had a handful, can still pay a mortgage by going on throwback tours. This is at least part of the reason why Gin Blossoms, Collective Soul, Our Lady Peace, In Living Color, Candlebox, Lisa Loeb, Sponge, Matchbox Twenty, Len, 3 Doors Down, and countless other antiquities continue operations. It’s only a matter of time before Hootie and the Blowfish emerge from the abyss and reclaim the throne of toothless alt-country/rock, recently vacated by by Mumford and Sons.

Getting back to Soul Asylum — just because their existence hinges on the (obviously correct) presumption that people will pay to hear tracks from their pre-“fade into obscurity” era doesn’t mean they can’t put on a more-than-worthwhile show. Pirner’s voice, astoundingly, sounds exactly the same way it did 20 years ago, while his shaggy stage presence resonates like that of one of those extra-charming homeless guys you’re in less of a hurry than usual to distance yourself from.

 
 

The chops of drummer and mohawk revivalist Michael Bland (who played in Prince’s band back when) go far beyond what’s necessary to pound out the rudimentary parts on Soul Asylum’s greatest hits. When Pirner thanked the crowd for showing up to his gig instead of seeing the Flaming Lips across town last night, at least one audience member did not feel such thanks were necessary. I was satisfied with my choice.

Some things that used to be wildly popular still exist even though they’re a lot less popular now, and that’s just fine. Unless Soul Asylum follow through on their promise to record a Dead Kennedys song. Then we’ll have a problem.

Homepage photo by Barry Thompson