For one glorious night, the 80s were back at the House of Blues! No, not the synth-pop rubbish that flooded the radio stations, but the alternative rock that bubbled under the surface and eventually percolated up through the cracks in the early-90s for a few moments of commercial success. Two of the strongest underground bands of that era, Minneapolis, MN’s Soul Asylum and Phoenix, AZ’s The Meat Puppets came to town on a rainy Sunday to rock those enough brave enough to head into downtown.
Was it weather? The show being on a school night? The middle-aged fan bases with kids needing to go to school the next day? Houston being a terrible music town? Probably a little bit of everything, but the audience was far from jam-packed at the House of Blues, which was too bad for the music going folks in our fine…well, good enough city.
Being a dual-headlining tour, both bands had a solid set of music but we’ll start with The Meat Puppets.
Originally from Phoenix, but now living up the road in Austin, the Kirkwood brothers are firmly into their 4th decade of existence and do not seem to be slowing down. The addition of guitarist/vocalist Kurt Kirkwood’s son, Elmo, on guitar beefed up the sound nicely. Also, Shandon Sahm (son of Texas music legend Doug Sahm) held down the drums as he has done on and off since the late-90s to fill out the sound nicely.
From the opening notes of Seal Whales, Kurt and Cris harmonized nicely and the set was off in a wave of countrified rock n’ roll. One of the first things to hit you was how great the vocals sounded together compared to recordings of the past. It really brought old favorites like Oh, Me and Plateau into a whole new light. The instrumentation, which was always strong, jumped out in extended jams and unexpected covers including Seven Spanish Angels and an awesome take on Sloop John B, which you probably remember from the Beach Boys’ catalog.
The bands willingness to go into extended instrumental jams made the night for me. Hearing a great version of I’m a Mindless Idiot before Sloop John B was definitely a highlight. When the band closed out the night with Lake of Fire, the audience seemed to have their highlight of the night. People sang along, high-fived and had a blast. Then, just as quietly as they took the stage, the band exited with only Cris hanging out a bit to give a thankful smile and plenty of waves to the audience. The bar was set high after this set.
It felt like more than a few folks headed for the doors after The Meat Puppets. For some odd reason, on a Sunday night, it seemed fitting to have Soul Asylum start at 10:30pm. The impending work week hung heavy on the minds of many, as overheard conversations told you in the audience. Some packed it in and went home, but some decided to “Stick it out for a few.” Those who did were rewarded greatly.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to see Soul Asylum in its current form at Scout Bar. The smaller venue was packed but the band seemed tired at the beginning before they pulled it all together to rock out for the night. At the House of Blues, they hit the stage running and did not stop until the last note of closer, April Fool.
Those who have seen Soul Asylum over the past 20 years know how the set starts out. Every show starts with their very own ‘Whiskey River,’ Somebody to Shove. The opening riff pours out of vocalist/guitarist Dave Pirner’s guitar and the night is on.
Pirner, bassist Winston Roye and lead guitarist Justin Sharbono have a great rapport that they have developed over the years. Sometimes bands ignore the audience to their detriment, but these guys, while acknowledging the audience, were clearly there having fun playing music with each other. They sprinted back and forth throughout the set, laughed, smiled and obviously had a blast tearing through their 17 song set list.
Chestnuts like Misery, Black Gold and Supersonic kept the energy high for those still in the audience, which to their credit, did not lose any noticeable members from their first note. Something about the energy, the strong set list and view of a band obviously having fun made it hard for anyone to walk away even as the clock approached midnight.
Without a Trace, always dedicated to former bassist Karl Mueller who died of cancer a few years back, was a highlight of the set for me. Of course, Runaway Train brought out the entire audience’s backup vocal abilities and the band delivered it as if it was something they had just written.
I know a lot of this may seem hokey and like a fanboy throwing out praise, but I must say all of this is completely how it went down. You see a lot of bands who have had a heyday back in the 90s and they look almost confrontational about performing the songs that people love, but Soul Asylum had fun, the audience had fun and I would bet The Meat Puppets had some fun. Is that not why we attend shows, play shows and keep music going?
Now get out there and see a show or play one. Just keep the music moving…