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Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Soul Asylum back for free Summerland show in St. Pete

It’s surprising when a vocalist’s speaking voice is dramatically different than what emanates from their mouth while belting out a song.

Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz is typical. His singing voice is a logical extension of his spoken word.

And then there is Dave Pirner. Soul Asylum’s singer-songwriter’s voice on the telephone is James Earl Jones deep. That’s quite a contrast from his uniquely nasal tenor, which stands out whenever Soul Asylum hits the radio.

“I think Dave’s voice is like no other,” said bassist Tommy Stinson, who played bass for Soul Asylum when he was not working with Guns N’ Roses and the Replacements. “I’ve worked with some guys who sound like nobody else (GNR’s Axl Rose and the Mats’ Paul Westerberg) and Dave’s in his own category.”

Pirner is also a gifted tunesmith. During the ’80s, Minneapolis was a musical hotbed. Much of the press focused on the brilliant and enigmatic Prince, the aforementioned indie rock heroes the Replacements and Husker Du, who were led by a pair of visionaries, Bob Mould and Grant Hart.

“It was an amazing scene to be part of,” Pirner said. “I have great memories coming of age during the ’80s in such a vibrant place.”

Such Soul Asylum albums as 1988’s “Hang Time” and 1990’s “The Horse They Rode In On” were embraced by indie fans.

“We built up a nice base and toured clubs, and I have so many great memories from those days,” Pirner said.

But everything changed with Soul Asylum’s breakthrough album “Grave Dancer’s Union” which was released 22 years ago.

Time has passed quickly for Soul Asylum, which will perform Saturday as part of the Summerland tour, which also features Everclear, Eve 6 and Spacehog, at Vinoy Park. The band is performing without Stinson, who left the act in 2012 after a seven-year run. But vocalist-guitarist Pirner, who is the lone remaining member of the band from Soul Asylum’s glory days, is taken aback by how long it has been since “Grave Dancer’s Union” dropped.

“I couldn’t believe it, either,” Pirner said. “I’m really amazed. It doesn’t seem that long ago that the album came out.”

Prior to the release of “Grave Dancer’s Union,” Soul Asylum, which also includes guitarist Justin Sharbono, bassist Winston Roye and drummer Michael Bland, had credibility but lacked popularity. But then the down but well-crafted single “Runaway Train” became ubiquitous in 1992, and the album went triple platinum.

That was the end of obscurity for Pirner and Soul Asylum, which was handpicked by Keith Richards to open his X-Pensive Winos tour in 1992.

“That was an amazing time,” Pirner said. “We shared a stage with one of our biggest heroes.”

Soul Asylum used to open for the seminal Replacements but eclipsed the fellow Minneapolis band in terms of sales.

“There is certain things that you can’t control,” Pirner said. “You never know how things will go.”

By the end of the ’90s, Soul Asylum’s commercial luster dimmed and in 2005 bassist Karl Mueller passed away because of cancer.

But thanks to Stinson, who didn’t want to let Soul Asylum die, the band lived on and it flourishes creatively.

It was surprising that Soul Asylum trumped its edgier, acclaimed peers in 1992 and perhaps even more eyebrows should be raised today since “Delayed Reaction,” which was released in 2012, is its best album since “Grave Dancer’s Union.” The disc is packed with catchy, gritty and urgent songs.

Pirner clearly still has it as a songwriter. He penned each of the 10 vibrant cuts. “I had a good time with it,” Pirner said. “There is no reason to stop now. I’m re-energized, for some reason. I was moved to write the new songs. It’s fun mixing up the old and the new now at shows. The fans still want to hear Soul Asylum, and as long as that is so, I’ll be out there.”

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