Who remembers Soul Asylum?

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’90s alt-rock band Soul Asylum is performing at Arts, Beats & Eats this weekend, playing the Main Stage on Sunday, September 1 at 8 p.m. It has been 20 years since the “Runaway Train” single took an underground band from Minneapolis, already five cult albums into its career, to the mega-heights of MTV and stadium tours. Welcome to Royal Oak, boys.

Ahhh, the summer of ’93. This writer was 18, and saving up pennies to get to concerts had become a reason for living. That year, Guns N’ Roses played the Milton Keynes Bowl in England with the Cult, Blind Melon and Soul Asylum. I couldn’t afford it, because I had spent all of my dosh on Metallica, Megadeth, the Almighty and Diamond Head at the same venue a few weeks earlier. Instead, I stayed home and listened to Grave Dancer’s Union (and Appetite for Destruction, and Love, but no Blind Melon).

Purists will say that ’93 marks the spot where Soul Asylum ‘sold out’, where they abandoned the underground in favor of bigger venues, red carpets and cleaner busses. This is, of course, horseshit. ’93 was simply the year that their angsty, power-pop croon-tunes were discovered by a mainstream that had already accepted the Seattle crew, and was well on its was to embracing the Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots and our own Sponge (the latter also at AB&E this year).

Listen to the five previous albums, particularly ’90s And the Horse They Rode in On, and you will see that the band barely altered its sound at all. There’s nothing to suggest that, with singles like “Black Gold” and “Somebody to Shove,” the band compromised. Not one bit. The timing was just right.

Plus, “Runaway Train” was and is a great song, and the video was genuinely powerful. Remember all of those missing kids and the appeal for information? It struck a chord at a time when a chord needed striking. Rock ’n’ roll wasn’t about being up all night and sleeping all day anymore. It wasn’t about big hair, groupies and leather. ‘Real’ was in and everybody was getting in touch with their inner nihilist. Soul Asylum told us that we didn’t have to run away to the big city.

The band still makes great music, but its days of humungous chart success are obviously well behind it. The nostalgia train is one worth jumping on, and the ’90s express is pulling up now. Bands like Filter, Everclear and Live and being packaged together much like Ratt, LA Guns and Winger have been for years. That’s Soul Asylum now. But the music still matters.

So go and enjoy. If nothing else, it’ll be surreal to hear those old tunes in Royal Oak.


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