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The Stub Project: Soul Asylum and the Jayhawks – Midway Stadium – St. Paul, MN – 8.17.1995

April 27, 2011

There was a time when Soul Asylum was the Greatest Live Rock Band in the World. August 1995, however, was not that time. By then, Soul Asylum was the object of ridicule and mockery. Their crime: success. After a decade of releasing albums that could never quite compete with their riotous live shows, Dave Pirner traded in his Minneapolis girlfriend for Winona Ryder and their 1992 album, Grave Dancer’s Union went triple platinum.  Soul Asylum sang at Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 and they were on the cover of Rolling Stone in June 1995.

Oh, the shame.

Several scientific studies from the era proved that one’s contempt of Soul Asylum was directly reciprocal to one’s own jealousy. With the exception of Paul Westerberg, in the early 1990s there’s not a hetero dude in America who didn’t want Winona Ryder. And if their hit “Runaway Train” didn’t make you cry, despite yourself, you’re one cold motherfucker.

In a parallel world, perhaps The Replacements, who had broken up in 1991, would be headlining this hometown affair, but in the way Westerberg didn’t want Winona, he apparently didn’t really want to be famous either. And who can blame him? Fame is a plastic soul-crushing killing machine. It’s a drug, maybe the worse of them all. They don’t just build you up to tear you down, they humiliate you. Exhibit A: the cover from Rolling Stone. What kind of fevered, blistered mind would cut and paste a band together in such a grotesque manner? Paul Westerberg most certainly laughed his ass off when he saw it … Or maybe he cried, realizing he dodged the most blunt of scalpels. That could have been him with his neck buttoned together with his bandmates. If only the editors of  Rolling Stone had the courage of their perversion and gone all the way with an accompanying Jame Gumb-inspired fashion spread, there may have been some merit to this grim affair.

At this point, I had already seen Soul Asylum around ten times. They weren’t performing many of their old songs anymore; this was a streamlined arena rock ready band. Had they sold out? Perhaps. Or had they simply evolved into a well-honed ready radio touring machine? That seems a bit more fair.

How quaint life was back in the early 1990s. We still worried if our favorite bands were selling out. Now, that’s the entire point. Bar by bar, Soul Asylum built a reputation as one of the best live acts of its generation and they finally hit it big. It’s a great story – a rock n roll dream – but their success was treated like a betrayal. Now, if you haven’t licensed/whored at least three tunes off your debut album to a teen drama or a cellphone commercial, you’re apparently not seriously interested in creating awareness about your music and might as well serenade yourself in the mirror.

Victoria Williams - Listen and You Will Be Healed

Like Dave Pirner says, nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. And the Twin Cities came out full force for this show at Midway Stadium, home to the independent Northern League’s St. Paul Saints. Matthew Sweet and the legendary Jayhawks filled out the bill. Oh yeah, and Victoria Williams – one of the greatest songwriters alive – was there too, sitting in with the Jayhawks. I don’t really remember Matthew Sweet at all. We probably got there late. The Jayhawks, as always, were excellent and simply to get a glimpse of Victoria Williams was worth the price of admission on its own. Her mere presence graced the proceedings. If there are angels living amongst us, she is one of them. It was already an exceptional event and the headliner had yet to take the stage.

As if they were a fake pair of distressed jeans,  Soul Asylum’s indie-cred was in tatters by the summer of 1995. Still, their hometown embraced them and they responded by knocking out a hook-laden, anthemic set. It was a perfect soundtrack to a summer evening.

The only way it could have been better is if, say, I was getting a rubdown. Thankfully, by now Soul Asylum knew a thing or two about living the good life. Accordingly, a masseuse was set up on the field and for the first part of their set I was getting a massage from Ladi Mahuleia, expert at intuitive therapeutic massage and chakra balancing. It really was quite an excellent innovation and a service which should clearly be featured at more musical events. It’s amazing what a delightful sheen a massage can put on the world.

Maybe success isn’t so bad after all.

Here’s Soul Asylum playing “Black Gold” at the Clinton Inauguration. Dave Pirner’s wipe-out becomes a prophetic metaphor for the missteps of the incoming administration.

The show closed with everyone singing Victoria Williams’ instant classic “Summer of Drugs.” Here’s Pirner and Victoria on Letterman:

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