Concert Review: Meat Puppets and Soul Asylum at House Of Blues Chicago, 6/7/15

The House of Blues Chicago recently hosted a pairing of veteran alternative rock acts, The Meat Puppets and Soul Asylum. While their sounds rarely share the same ground, there are striking similarities in the stories of both bands.

Both groups started on well-respected independent labels in the early 80s. The Meat Puppets began there life with the west coast punkers SST and Soul Asylum with the Minneapolis based Twin-Tone.

The debuts of the two groups, Meat Puppets and Say What You Will Clarence... Karl Sold The Truck were scrappy, loud and fast, a sound never again to be completely reprised by either band.

Then a few years later, the two groups released their breakthrough moments. Not commercially, as the groups would still spend years in the underground, but artistically.

Meat Puppets II mellowed out the sounds of their debut into a psychedelic journey through the desert.

The cow-punk flourishes of Meat Puppets II would go on to inspire legions of younger bands like The Lemonheads, Uncle Tupelo, Ryan Adams and Nirvana.

Similarly, Soul Asylum released their breakthrough Hang Time, which finally sanded the edges of their sound into a catchy burst of pop-punk with a radio-ready production that was light years away from their early sounds.

After grunge and alternative rock finally became the taste of Generation X at the turn of the 90s, Meat Puppets and Soul Asylum both benefited.

The Meat Puppets had Kurt Cobain publicly extolling the virtues of their music and even had them make a cameo on their now legendary 1993 MTV Unplugged In New York performance.

After that appearance, millions of teens dug through the Puppet's back catalogue setting them up perfectly for their commercial breakthrough Too High To Die featuring the radio smash "Backwater." Soul Asylum had their huge moment with their 1992 album Grave Dancers Union and its accompanying "Runaway Train" which had tons of plays on MTV thanks to its eye-catching missing-children themed video.

Fast forward to 2015 and these unlikely bedfellows are now sharing a tour together. The Meat Puppets are now joined by singer Curt Kirkwood's son Elmo. Besides that, not much has changed in the ensuing twenty years. Curt's lead guitar work often channels a dry, desert wind, picking up momentum with every note. Bassist and brother Cris bops around with a happy grin, picking out notes that compliment their country-metal approach.

Opener "Sam" features a dual rap from Curt and Cris with the words spewing forth with an aggressive attack weirdly juxtaposed to the song's grungy base. "Comin' Down" sounds like Hank Williams after a quaalude.

The three songs from Nirvana's Unplugged ("Lake Of Fire" "Oh Me" and "Plateau") are all reprised here with a louder, more intense approach.

Highlight "Up On The Sun" breaks down in a hurricane of muted guitar strums just to have them rein it all in for a powerful chorus sending chills up your spine.

All in all, The Meat Puppets display why they are such a unique American sound.

After The Meat Puppets got the crowd warmed up, Dave Pirner brings out his latest incarnation of Soul Asylum, Dave being the only original member. His flaxen blonde hair and baby face show no signs of age and neither does his super-charismatic stage presence. Drummer Michael Bland didn't quite match the sound of previous drummers. with his huge stature absolutely towering over the kit making it a bit of a struggle to hit all the drum fills on the punkier material. His previous work with Prince was obvious on the slower songs, where Bland perfectly fit the songs.

Opener "Somebody To Shove" got the crowd moving, with Pirner's angsty vocals sounding absolutely fantastic. Most of the material covered Grave Dancers Union and it's unreasonably maligned follow up Let Your Dim Light Shine. "Misery" with it's "Frustrated incorporated" chorus getting the audience singing along certainly capturing the story of alternative rock circa 1995 when what started as a genuine emotion was packaged and sold to millions of teenagers.

A heart-tugging moment came when Pirner dedicated the rollicking "Without A Trace" to founding member/bassist Karl Mueller who passed away in 2005 from throat cancer.

Then the guys ended things on a high note with the barn-storming "April Fool." While Soul Asylum era 2015 didn't quite match the highs of their previous line-ups, the passion and talent of Dave Pirner carried the set.

This meeting of two groundbreaking alternative rock acts is an unlikely but rewarding pairing that should not be missed.