As a former Minneapolis resident, I feel some ownership where Soul Asylum is concerned. I like to think that no one anywhere else I’ve lived as an adult (Chicago and now C-U) gets Soul Asylum the way I get them — their ferocious live shows back in the late 80s/early 90s, the love and respect they clearly had for the music they chose to cover (“Chevy Van”!), and especially the way it felt to get ready for a night out to a Soul Asylum record (yes, record — preferably While You Were Out, side one) and then go out and SEE Soul Asylum hanging out at the Uptown (RIP), there to see Uncle Tupelo or whoever was playing that night. Even better, going out to see Soul Asylum themselves, shredding every other band they came into contact with in terms of live show. “Best Live Band on the Planet”, someone said. Yeah. We knew that.
Except that, of course, I move here in my late 20s and everyone around here of a certain age has their own Soul Asylum in C-U story, whether it be told from backstage or from the bottom of a garbage can at Mabel’s. And Dave Pirner, singer/guitarist/primary songwriter for the band since it was Loud Fast Rules back in the mid-80s, is looking forward to getting back to this part of Illinois to play the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival this Saturday night in downtown Urbana.
“I definitely remember playing gigs in Champaign,” he says. “I’m telling ya — I’ve played a bunch of shows in Illinois this summer, and I’m so happy that I’m playing somewhere in Illinois that I’ve heard of. We’ve been playing the weirdest little town in Illinois,” he goes on. “I kept thinking this is how Cheap Trick survived — there’s so many places in Illinois where you can play rock music and people come. I have fond memories of playing in Champaign and it’s good to be going back.”
But this time there’s an added attraction for Pirner, who now resides in New Orleans: the corn.
“That’s one of the things I miss most, living in New Orleans — right around State Fair time in Minneapolis, I really miss sweet corn,” he says. “I’m thinking VERY SERIOUSLY about shipping a crate back to Louisiana. New Orleans has everything except… some things, and that corn is one of them.”
I told him I thought I knew someone who could hook him up with the good stuff from the farmers market. Heh.
The band’s current lineup features original members Pirner and Dan Murphy (guitar/vocals), with Michael Bland on drums (he’s played drums with everybody, including Prince, so he’s got chops), and, sometimes, former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson on bass. He’s been recording with Soul Asylum recently, Pirner says, but won’t be joining them onstage in Urbana, due to a conflicting commitment with Stinson’s other band, a little outfit called Guns N’ Roses. Instead, Pirner told me, Figgs‘ bassist Pete Donnelly will be joining the band onstage this weekend.
“I did a record awhile back and Pete just happened to be the bass player,” he says. “The Figgs went out and backed Tommy on his solo record, too. So Tommy takes me to a gig in Boston, and he’s like, you gotta see this band, they’re so great, and it’s the Figgs and there’s Pete onstage, and I was like, I know that guy! Tommy was like, well, what do you think? and I looked at Tommy and I said, I think that if this guy fills in for you while you’re working for Axl, you might not get your job back.”
What to expect this weekend? “What you see [at recent live shows] is people getting reacquainted with the band,” he says. “You see people who only know the popular stuff, but then we play some of the more obscure stuff, and you see other people brighten up — you know [that guy] had our first record, because he knows the song we’re playing. So we mix it up a little… we try to throw some new material in there, but at the Sweetcorn Festival? I mean, no one’s gonna care about any new material, except for those two guys who show up and go, ‘Hey, they’re not playing any new material!'” Pirner says that while he doesn’t focus much on the audience reaction to songs, his bandmates do, and occasionally will add/remove songs from the playlist depending on the crowd’s vibe.
I admit it — I’m having a slightly hard time coming to terms with the fact Soul Asylum aren’t playing the best indie rock venues anymore (the ones that remain, anyway), but then the last time I saw them, on tour with the Spin Doctors and Screaming Trees in 1993 and working Grave Dancers Union to death (“Runaway Train,” which will be instantly recognizable to many showgoers this weekend, was the enormous hit off that record), I had an equally hard time coming to terms with the fact Soul Asylum were playing the World Music Theatre in front of thousands of people.
So, what the hell. It’s been 17 years. I’m TOTALLY looking forward to this weekend’s show on the Festival’s main stage near the intersection of Main and Vine. The band will go on sometime between 9 – 9:30, and they will rock. Expect a cover or two (“Chevy Van”?) and a healthy mix of older and more recent stuff… but come prepared to holler for your old favorites. I bet they’re still putting on one hell of a show.