There isn’t a lot of soul in the music of Soul Asylum. At least not in the musical sense. You don’t hear a Marvin Gaye influence, or the impact of The Temptations. But obviously, when the band first chose its name 30 years ago, there was no intent to mislead. Its music, which can be both edgy and thoughtful, digs into the soul. In many ways, it exemplifies ‘90s alt-rock at its best: intense, meaningful and passionate. And thus its name is perfect.
The Minneapolis-based band rocked the Keystone Ballroom at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on Saturday with a tight and energetic performance. It opened the show with “Without A Trace” and followed with the melodic and stompy “Never Really Been.” A breezy rendition of “The Juice,” spiced by some tasty harmonica playing by lead vocalist David Priner, followed.
Soul Asylum is an accomplished band. Its 1992 album, “Grave Dancers Union,” sold three million units. The group was invited to play Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. In 1995, “Let Your Dim Light Shine” also went platinum. And it was one of the tracks from that album, “I Did My Best,” which also served as one of the show’s highlights. Reminiscent, melodically, of The Band’s “The Weight,” it’s simply a very good song that shines a bit brighter in the live setting.
Priner, as a frontman, was workman-like. The show kept a brisk pace, with little banter between songs, save for an occasional short quip. He was, however, gracious and appreciative of the audience, often saying “You’re too kind” when a song was well-received. He was also charismatic, particularity when he joined guitarist Justin Sharbono in firing off a lead or a solo.
“You’ve been a dynamite audience, and you deserve to give yourself a round of applause,” said Priner. “Let’s go.” The mini-tribute to KISS’ “Alive!” album may have gone past 90-percent of the audience, but it was a clever gesture and again showed the diversity of the band’s influences.
“Little Too Clean” was fueled by burning guitars and “Lately” offered some foot-tappin’ stomp. During “Misery,” Priner slid in a few verses of Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs” and a driving and rhythmic performance of “Watcha Need” also offered a touch of funk. Other highlights of the set where two of the group’s signature songs, “Runaway Train” and “Somebody To Shove.” The show ended with a pounding performance of “April Fool.”
In addition to talent, Soul Asylum continues to display resiliency. Though the band lineup has shuffled over the years and original bassist Karl Mueller was lost to cancer, the group soldiers on. Its music is still intense, meaningful and passionate. And though at one time the group may have exemplified ‘90s alt-rock at its best, those songs - as well as the band’s more recent material - still connect in 2014. And in their own way, still offer plenty of soul.