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Last Wednesday in Los Angeles, 90’s Alternative Rock legends Soul Asylum slid into The Teragram Ballroom bringing with them their Dead Letter Tour.  On the heels of the postponements and cancellations of events across the nation surrounding the growing Coronavirus crisis, the band along with Local H and one-man dynamo Wain McFarlane took us on a journey far away from all the chaos (if only for a few hours.)

While entering the intimate 600 seat venue in City West, I couldn’t help but surmise what a perfect buffer this facility provides - a useful venue option between seedy dive bars and the larger Wiltern and Fonda theaters nestled nearby.  With just a few minutes to go before showtime, I meandered among the multi-generational crowd and felt the anticipation growing with each step.  The lights dimmed, the patrons pressed forward while guarding their drinks, and we were ready to do.

First to the stage was Wain McFarlane, (also known as the Dreadlock Cowboy.)  Not being familiar with his music, I watched slack-jawed as he wasted no time dazzling us with his amazing guitar prowess.  Wain's enthusiastic take on classic rock tunes, laced with country and dipped in reggae, was incredibly unique.  He put together the kind of opening set which I enjoy, one that introduces me to something new, engaging, oozing with talent, and entirely entertaining. Well Done, Sir!    

Next on tap was the Illinois duo, Local H. Founding member Scott Lucas (guitar, lead vocals) and drummer Ryan Harding uncorked their aggressive Alternative Grunge /Punk-flavored set with all the subtlety of a slap to the face.  They took their positions donning the once-famous Choose Life T-shirts made famous by Wham! back in the day.  They were altered a bit, with 'ers' added to the end of 'LIFE,' seemingly to promote their upcoming full-length album Lifers to be released in April.  Their sound was relentless as they blasted through their set as if they knew it would be their last for a while.  Hits like 1998’s “All-Right (Oh, Yeah)” and ‘96’s Top 10 gem “Bound for the Floor” were included in a 45-minute set that damn near razed the 100-year-old building.  When they finished their no-frills show, I was exhausted and drained and frankly a bit blown away.  I am looking forward to that new record for sure.

Finally, it was time for Soul Asylum and their brand of alternative, grunge, folk, country, hard-rock music to finally hit the stage.  Dave Pirner (vocals, guitar), who always reminded me of a cross between Axl Rose and Curt Kobain, took his famously disheveled look and led his band through a set that had something for everyone.  The quartet who once balked at playing radio hits live has relented over the years.   On this night, the Minnesota band treated us to a show which included all the hits.  Not shying away from their biggest album, Grave Diggers Union, they treated us with no less than five gems from this release. 

My biggest takeaway from Wednesday night's show, however, was the song “Dead Letter.”  This song is a heartfelt ballad with a slight Irish flavor that was nothing less than captivating.   Combining these new songs with the classic and melodic “Black Gold” and “Runaway Train,” they hands-down kept everyone happy.  And, Soul Asylum didn't forget about the rockers in the crowd.  Classics such as “Somebody to Shove,” “April Fool,” and new scorcher “Got it Pretty Good” were dialed in and plenty to satisfy those with a slightly harder edge.

Perhaps lost in the shuffle amongst legends like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Soul Asylum could arguably be the most under-appreciated band to emerge from the ’90s.  Yes, they had hits and toured relentlessly, but I must admit I’d forgotten the range and variety this band put forth over the years.  I can’t begin to tell you how satisfying this concert was.  Once this virus blows over and life gets back to normal, look this band up once they get back on the road.  Go see them and treat yourself to a trip back in time while enjoying one of the most entertaining and kick-ass shows out there. 

Be Well and wash your hands!



John McAteer

Photojournalist - Orange County

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