July 10, 2015 Soul Asylum & Meat Puppets Take Over The Suffolk Theater Riverhead, NY 6-26-15
The 1990s Alternative Rock scene was exactly what its name implied, Alternative. With a variety of bands unique in their own way, historically the scene carried over the prior decade’s Post-Punk attitude, but instead of Synth it was with a striped down raw style. Among those making their mark on the time when teenagers spent their Summers watching music videos on MTV in between Beavis and Butthead, was bands like Soul Asylum and Meat Puppets. Both different in their respective ways, Soul Asylum’s sound was more along the lines of classic Alternative Rock in vain of The Replacements, and Meat Puppets were part of a movement called Cowpunk. Miles away from the Grunge Rock that critics began to name every band that popped up, Soul Asylum and Meat Puppets are some of the few to survive the decade, continuing to write new music, as well as perform in present times. Now in 2015, the two team up for a very special string of shows across the USA through July. Making their second stop in New York in a less than a week, the bands made the trip out to Eastern Long Island on Friday June 26th to perform at the historic refurbished Suffolk Theater in Riverhead. Normally configured as a dinner and show type venue, the main floor near the stage was clear of tables and fans of all ages gathered close to get a up-close experience with the bands.
Up first was Arizona’s Meat Puppets who have been at it since 1980 when brothers Curt (guitar/vocals) and Cris Kirkwood (bass guitar) joined up with Derrick Bostrom (drums) to start the band. Releasing their self-titled debut record in 1982, their initial style was more Punk Rock. It was not until two years later they decided to go in a different direction with Meat Puppets II, thus dawning a new era for the band with the aforementioned Cowpunk sound. Steadily releasing album after album through the ’80s into the ’90s, it would be Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain’s respect and love for Meat Puppets that would open a whole new audience to their music when he invited them on stage to perform for the 1994 MTV Unplugged session where they performed “Plateau” and “Lake of Fire.” Now reunited consistently since 2006, Curt and Cris are joined by Shandon Sahm on drums since 2009, and touring guitarist Elmo Kirkwood as they continue to support their 2013 album Rat Farm.
Introduced by Suffolk Theater’s MC, each member walked onto the stage in high spirits and were greeted by cheers as they began with the instrumental “Seal Whales” off their 1985 album Up on the Sun. Immediately putting the theater in a groove as they wasted no time going into “Comin’ Down,” Curt began to sing and keep the good feelings coming. With most of the crowd getting out of their seats and moving toward the floor to dance around, Meat Puppets kept the show going with little spoken word in between songs as they mixed in newer tracks like “The Monkey and the Snake” before the popular “Plateau” which had everyone cheering louder.
Loose and casual, they projected a jam session-like vibe as if they were within the comfort of their own garage and letting the songs take the lead. Offering up some classic cover tracks like Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” Willie Nelson and Ray Charles “Seven Spanish Angels,” The Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown,” and The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B” proved to be welcomed by the audience, as many sang along. Of course shuffling in fan-favorites from their original catalogue like “Up on the Sun,” “Sam,” and “Lost,” Meat Puppets did a fantastic job of providing a surprising set of songs. Bidding the crowd farewell with “Lake of Fire,” everyone showed mass appreciation for the band’s rare appearance on Long Island, with hopes they will return sooner than later.
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Following a brief intermission for a set change, co-headliners Soul Asylum were ready to take the stage. Hailing from Minnesota, the band initially formed under the name Loud Fast Rules in 1981, but officially became known as Soul Asylum two years later. Held together by lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Pirner, bassist Karl Mueller, guitarist Dan Murphy, and drummer Grant Young for the first decade of their career, Soul Asylum was a band that worked as hard as any could. Roughing it on the road and playing music for music sake, Pirner has stated the late Mueller, who passed in 2005 due to cancer, would often keep spirits high during the darkest times of the band, and perhaps they would not be here today if it was not for his positivity. Fortunately, that positivity all paid off in 1992 when the band was signed to Columbia Records and exploded into the mainstream with Grave Dancers Union. An album which contains some of the band’s biggest mainstream singles of all-time, to this day, it is perhaps one of the best records of the decade. Still lead by a humble Pirner into 2015, Soul Asylum’s newest lineup consist former Prince drummer Michael Bland, bassist Winston Roye , and lead guitarist Justin Sharbono. Walking out in a calm fashion, everyone awaited as the members strapped on instruments and fired up their amps.
Like a shock to the senses, they blasted into easily recognized “Someone to Shove” as Sharbono ignited the track with the signature opening riff. With his hair draped over his face, Pirner leaned into his microphone and gave the lyrics all the energy they deserved and had everyone’s attention. Keeping the guitars loud and mood upbeat, they went into 1995’s “Shut Down,” “Just Like Anyone,” followed by the more mellow big hit “Misery.” Smiling and overall happy to be sharing the stage with his bandmates, Pirner playful interacted with each of them as they performed, showing a friendly, warm chemistry that cannot be faked. Taking a moment to address the crowd, Pirner thanked everyone for coming out to spend the evening with them and proceeded to rock out with 2006’s “Whatcha Need” before another favorite in “Black Gold.”
Keeping the Grave Dancers Union tunes coming, “Without a Trace” shimmered through the air prior to shifting into 1998’s Candy from a Stranger’s “The Game.” With such a long career of music to cover, the most dedicated Soul Asylum fans were already completely satisfied with the song selection, and yet there was still so much more to come. Showcasing new songs entitled “Can’t Help It” and “Supersonic” gave fans a glimpse into the band’s forthcoming release, and judging by the passion behind the music, it will be another solid piece of work as well as a strong follow-up to 2012’s Delayed Reaction. Continuously gracious for the positive response from the audience, Pirner and company kept their enthusiasm up on stage moving about, keeping their sound tight, and most of all lively through “No Time For Waiting” and the beautiful “Eyes of a Child” as they unexpectedly segued into massive track “Runaway Train.” Catching all off guard, the transition was so seamless and purposely unannounced as even the people sitting all the way in the back of the theater got out of their seats to run down to the floor singing along.
For most bands, that would have been the set closer, but Soul Asylum has never fit the mold of a typical Rock band, and they went into the deeper tracks like 1990’s “Spinnin’,” before closing things out with “Gravity.” As they exited the stage toward the dressing room, everyone remained front and center with their hearts still racing, chanting for more. Answering the call, the band came right back out for a killer encore that launched with 1986’s album title track “Made to Be Broken” before a final shot of ruckus Rock-n-Roll with “April Fool.”
Simply put, Soul Asylum were clearly outstanding from start to finish. They did not allow for any downtime during their performance and had each and every eye fixed on them. Pirner not only looks like he has not aged in two decades, but he sounds as vital as ever as well. Sadly, many in the mainstream look to Soul Asylum for their big radio singles, but there is so much more to this band that is yet to be discovered all these years later. With new material on the horizon and steady touring through July, the band look prime to continue well into the future.