Soul Asylum and Fountains of Wayne :: October 8, 2013 :: Alter Bar :: Pittsburgh, PA
When I was in middle school and high school, I loved both Soul Asylum and Fountains of Wayne. Like, lovedthem. Soul Asylum was one of those grunge bands that endured past the fad with the beauty of Let Your Dim Light Shine. Fountains of Wayne was a band that I discovered via Matt Pinfield and 120 Minutes. Radiation Vibe premiered and I was hooked, well I was hooked for their first album, their self-titled debut was 36 minutes of awesomeness. I did lose track of them for a while but they came back with a vengeance in 2003 with Stacy’s Mom and Welcome Interstate Managers. So when I found out that there was a Groupon for this show, I of course jumped at it. It had been forever since I went to a concert or show just for me. Just for me as in, I didn’t go in there as a music writer taking notes and photos. But I guess you can’t take out the music writer when you are watching live music. Soul Asylum blew me away instantly and I knew that I had to write about them.
The show was on a Tuesday night and the small crowed reflected that. Alter Bar is a smaller venue and the even smaller crowd made for a very intimate night, exactly the way I like to see bands. I got to the show a bit late and missed Evan Dando of The Lemonheads performance (sorry). I was surprised to see that Soul Asylum was up next and Fountains of Wayne were the headliners.
Dave Pirner is only original member of Soul Asylum remaining in the band, so I was a bit worried about the performance, you know how sad that can be sometimes, especially for bands that used to play to sold out stadiums and now they were on this tiny stage in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. We’ll they were fucking awesome. They came out and gave this performance the same energy, maybe more energy than they used to give their stadium audiences. Though I never had the opportunity to see Soul Asylum in their heyday, Dave Pirner’s attitude and look always seemed to be one of ambivalence, the I am a rock star because that is the side effect of making music, type of air. But on Tuesday night, he was a performer, he loved being on stage, singing those songs, playing with those musicians. He did seem a bit hungry for crowd adoration, but fucking hell, he earned every ounce of it. There was playful interaction between the band members and genuine laughs, those moments were infectious to the audience. There were even a few teenagers in the audience, there with their parents, whom Pirner talked to during the set (I know that at 14 that would have made my year).
Their set list was orchestrated perfectly, they mixed up the tracks, so even if you were a fan of a specific album or stage in their career, there wasn’t long spans where you didn’t recognize a single song. They played all their hits: Run Away Train, Black Gold, Someone to Shove, I Will Still Be Laughing, and Misery along with tracks showcasing their 30 year career, including some new songs. And lucky for me, they played quite a few tracks from Let Your Dim Light Shine. The band was all sweat and smiles at the end of their set. I never stopped moving. Just Like Anyone was the highlight of their set, they were the embodiment of fury and screams and singing and feedback and hair – in that song, they embodied everything I imagined they should be live.
Fountains of Wayne were a different story. They took the stage and launched into She’s Got a Flair with total indifference. They played their songs with all of the technical prowess as you would expect from a band with such an advanced pop sensibility and all the enthusiasm of accountants doing your taxes. The crowd sang along, but never moved around, and I don’t think that anyone in the band smiled even once. They played quite a few songs from their self-titled debut and even offered a bit of trivia that They Say You Curse At Girls was a song written because before they were a band, they used to sit at bars and just think of song titles. Their banter seemed genuine yet it fell flat, they were unable to muster the energy to build a rapport with the audience. As I was watching and enjoying the songs, I was wondering to myself why I loved them so much back in the day, they seemed bored, I was getting bored, and then they closed with Radiation Vibe. The highlights of their set were predictably Stacy’s Mom and Radiation Vibe. Radiation Vibe fucking rocked, it was full of energy, piercing guitars and scratchy vocals. I guess I just never realized that they had mellowed out so much as their career progressed. Which, is totally cool for them and their fans, it just isn’t my thing.
I thought it was interesting that Soul Asylum and Fountains of Wayne were on the same bill, and leaving the show I thought it was even weirder. They have two very different musical styles and two very different audiences. Soul Asylum gave one hell of a show and I would jump at the chance to see them again. While Fountains of Wayne played their songs very well but I think I have more fun listening to them at home. Maybe it was the fact that there was very little crowd energy, but their stage show didn’t offer fans anything that we can get from putting on their record and turning it all the way up.