In preparation for next month’s Flannel Nation, OC Music News caught Soul Asylum’s acoustic tour when it stopped in Nashville last week. With Dave Pirner and Ryan Smith giving us a stripped down version of their classics and new tracks, it was a fantastic evening of music.
When Soul Asylum released their legendary album “Grave Dancers Union” in 1992, the first two singles – “Somebody to Shove” and “Black Gold” – got them going, but the third song – “Runaway Train” – took off. “Runaway Train” was everywhere and it scored them the Grammy for Best Rock Song in 1994. “Grave Dancers Union” would go on to be triple platinum and they followed up with “Let Your Dim Light Shine,” which became platinum and produced the single “Misery.”
Soul Asylum continued to release albums and tour, and in 2020, they released “Hurry Up and Wait.” Due to 2020 being what it was, they had to wait to tour until last year. During their Back in Your Face Tour, we saw an energetic Pirner moving all over the stage, headbanging through old and new songs. Along with the album release, Pirner published the book “Loud Fast Words” which is filled with lyrics to all of his songs, drawings, and commentary on albums. The book gives us an intimate look at the past 40 years and exposes so much of Pirner’s thoughts, feelings, and inspirations. For this acoustic run of dates, we hoped to get even more insight into Pirner’s songs and we were not disappointed.
The darkened venue was lit by candlelight on every table and helped give the evening a personal feel. Show opener Phillip Michael Scales was new to us, and we were quite happy to learn about him! His bluesy rock vocals were accented by his charming personality, and whether he did a song of his own creation or a cover (such as The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”), it all sounded excellent. Scales was featured on the Ellen DeGeneres show earlier this year and we look forward to seeing him again in the future.
Soul Asylum’s Pirner and Smith hit the stage harder than one would expect for an intimate set, but “Get On Out” was a nice way to begin. “Here We Go” off “Hurry Up and Wait” was next, and they kept us in a mix tracks from all of their albums; from “Grave Dancers Union,” to “The Silver Lining,” and “Hurry Up and Wait,” it was a good blend of old and new.
Before “New World,” Pirner said he was pleased to be in Nashville and, “It is wonderful to be here. Actually it is wonderful to be anywhere,” reminding us of those lonely days trapped at home. Pirner and Smith did many of their songs acoustic during the lockdowns, so if you need some for yourself, get to their YouTube. Pirner continued his welcome of the crowd by saying he loved being in Nashville and even bought a pair of shoes from a drug dealer… and he’s been tripping all day (the first of several jokes).
After “To My Own Devices,” Pirner sang “Misery” and his voice sounded awesome. As a non-singer, I find the concept of singing and playing acoustic in front of people to be terrifying. You are just… out there… totally open with no background music to hide your vocal flaws. But that’s why Pirner has a Grammy and I don’t. Even though we knew he could sing incredibly well with his full band – as we heard during last summer’s tour – it was wonderful to hear him sing without any “protection.” My point: yes, Pirner can sing.
Pirner told a joke about being an egg, only getting laid once, and by your mom, then went into “Freak Accident,” followed by “By the Way” and “Without a Trace.” Bringing out another track from “Hurry Up and Wait,” they also did “Dead Letter.”
Some more dad jokes were told and Pirner promised, “It’s only going to get worse.” He chatted with the audience, making it seem like a gathering of friends. “Eyes of a Child” was followed by the hugely popular “Black Gold,” then “Homesick” and “String of Pearls.” I have to admit I never noticed the story in “String of Pearls” previously. As much as I love rock shows with pyro, lights, and many decibels, I truly enjoyed soaking in the lyrics in the acoustic versions of these songs.
One of my favorites off the new album, “If I Told You” was up next and followed by a cover of Victoria Williams’ “Summer of Drugs.” “Never Really Been” and “Bittersweetheart” were the lead up to the mega hit “Runaway Train.”
“Closer to the Stars” closed out their set, but with some cajoling from the crowd, the guys came back for “Somebody to Shove” and to say goodnight.
If you could not catch this tour, I encourage you to pick up “Hurry Up and Wait” and “Loud Fast Words” to get you in the mood for August.
As much as we enjoyed acoustic Soul Asylum, we also look forward to seeing Pirner and Smith joined by Jeremy Tappero on bass and drummer extraordinaire Michael Bland doing the full-on rock thing at Flannel Nation. Soul Asylum will share the day with Sugar Ray, Everclear, Fastball, Filter, Sponge, Cracker, and Candlebox. Flannel Nation will be held at the Port of Los Angeles and tickets are on sale now.