All photos by Chloe Rose Gerard
Without going into too much personal detail, I haven’t been able to get out and about to concerts like I used to due to health issues. But when I saw that one of my all-time favorite rock bands, Soul Asylum, was on tour supporting their fantastic new album ‘Change of Fortune,’ I felt the impulse to give it a go.
I invited Innocent Words photographer Chloe Rose and her father, fellow Soul Asylum fan Don Gerard, to go. Don would be the pilot, resident joke teller, and (I had a sneaky suspicion) my caretaker. Chloe, with camera bag in hand, would document the night at the gorgeous Thalia Hall in Chicago.
I hadn’t been to a live show in eight years, I hadn’t been to Chicago in at least 12, and the majority of my “outings” were to doctor’s offices and hospitals. Needless to say, I questioned my decision countless times during the two-hour-plus trip and overwhelming dose of reality.
After a small delay and a near brush with hillbilly life for Don and Chloe, they picked me up, we loaded up the car, and headed north to the Windy City. Small farm town after small farm town passed. Though we did come across some sort of motorcycle rally along the way, mostly all we saw was corn and farm equipment. The long drive flew by, thanks in part to great conversation and good music.
Now, I live in a small, very small, farm town, so coming up to Chicago with the multitudes of expressways, highways, off ramps, the “L,” skyscrapers, and traffic (damn, there was so much traffic), was a real eye opener. I was like a little kid asking a 1,000 questions, pointing to this and that. As nervous and anxious as I was, my curiosity was buzzing. “Yes, Troy, that is the Sears Tower.” “No, Troy we are not downtown.” “Yes, Troy, that is where the White Sox play.” “No, Troy, we are not downtown; this is UIC campus.” “Troy, the Sears Tower was downtown, stop asking!!!” What can I say, nervous energy.
With Thalia Hall in sight, we drove in circles countless times looking for a place to park. Fuck it, I offered up to pay for valet parking. If this is my big coming out party, let’s do it in style. (Side note: this was the first time I’ve ever had valet parking in my life, and it was pretty sweet.)
With tour busses parked out front, we went into Thalia Hall, which was an old opera house built in 1892. The main floor was a restaurant and the venue, the third floor was the balcony of the hall, and the basement was a bar and grill. We went down the stairs to the basement to use the restroom and get a bite to eat. It was then I realized my vision was worse than I had really expected. I had to hold on to the railing and go step by step like a three-year-old learning how to walk stairs for the first time.
Being one who HATES to ask for help, I didn’t let on. But when I got to the bottom of the stairs, there was one painted yellow. Thinking that was the bottom, I misjudged, crashed into the wall – luckily, no one saw me. I realized then there was no way I was making it back up those flights of stairs, let alone up two flights to the balcony. Luckily, the people at Thalia were extremely gracious, some of the kindest people I’ve ever met at a live venue. They let me use the tiny elevator the rest of the night so I could go up and down to the floors.
Don, Chloe, and I made it to will-call, and my dear friend Dana, Soul Asylum’s PR agent, hooked us up with VIP passes, a.k.a. the purple wristband. We could go anywhere or sit anywhere we wanted, basically. This played directly into Chloe’s hands when it came time to shoot the show. I swear that girl covered every inch of Thalia Hall snapping photos of Soul Asylum.
Don and I found seats in the balcony, seriously, not a bad seat in the hall. Soul Asylum and The English Beat are co-headliners on this run, and tonight Soul Asylum was up first, as Don pointed out that Soul Asylum’s drum kit was already on the stage. Minutes later the house lights dimmed, and that familiar roar came from the crowd as people rushed to the front of the stage.
Michael Bland took to his drum kit along with new guitarist Ryan Smith – best known as the guitarist and founding member of the Minneapolis-based band the Melismatics. Then out walked frontman and guitarist Dave Pirner, who had to pause to tie his shoe, and bassist Winston Roye not far behind.
Soul Asylum opened the show with their lead single “Supersonic” off their new album ‘Change of Fortune,’ and I was no longer a Soul Asylum concert virgin. I sat back in my chair, tapped my feet matching Bland’s drumming, clapped, yelled, and couldn’t believe I had made it to this point.
The iconic band whipped through a powerful set, playing a handful of new songs off ‘Change of Fortune’; thankfully, Soul Asylum hasn’t become a greatest hits live band. The new songs, “Can’t Help It,” “Don’t Bother Me,” and “Doomsday” sounded as powerful as anything Soul Asylum has ever done. Those new tracks merged perfectly into the main staples of their live set: “Without a Trace,” “Runaway Train,” and “Black Gold” from their 1992 breakout album ‘Grave Dancer’s Union.’ They dug deep into the Soul Asylum canon, playing “Spinnin” from their ‘And the Horse They Rode In On’ (1990) album, in which all three guitarists jumped up in unison spinning around.
The band mixed in a few rarities like “Slowly Rising” and “Oxygen.” “Misery” became a medley ending with “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney, Pirner told a corny joke, and the band had a misstep, much to the hilarity of Pirner – “Do you guys want to play four different songs at the same time or the same song at the same time?” The band closed the set with a rousing extended jam of “Stand Up and Be Strong.” As Dave sang those relatable lyrics, I took pause and thought about my health, my anxieties, and my trip to see them and felt the lyrics of this song summed up everything I have always tried to be.
With buzzing guitars on feedback, the band left the stage, but returned for their encore which featured my favorite song “Just Like Anyone,” another anthem for me. As they played the first chords, I raised my arms and hollered with joy, and I could feel Don looking at me thrilled. The lengthy opening set showed the band once again flexing their punk muscles on “April Fools.”
After the show, with our VIP hookup, we had the chance to meet Dave Pirner, one of my heroes, a guy I had interviewed several times before, but never met in person. Not long after Soul Asylum left the stage, in walks Pirner to the merch section with his tour manager, the amazing Jeneen, to meet me, Don, Chloe, and another music writer who was there.
He shook my hand, I introduced myself, and we all chatted. Like a giddy school girl at an Elvis concert, I leaned in and told Jeneen I talked to Dave. I thanked him for playing my favorite song, and he asked what it was, and I had total brain freeze. I couldn’t think of the title. He made a joke about “Runaway Train,” but I finally remembered and blurted out “Just Like Anyone.”
The meeting was short and sweet, maybe 10 minutes, and he had to be off to do some other things. As Dave was leaving I shook his hand again and thanked him for the interviews and music he has made to help me get through, that it meant everything to me. He seemed a little surprised, but instead thanked me because if it wasn’t for people like me and magazines like Innocent Words, he wouldn’t be able to do what he does.
Who said be careful on meeting your heroes?
Editor’s note: We only stayed for a couple songs of The English Beat, but were too tired and too excited from Soul Asylum, so we headed home.
Special thanks to the Soul Asylum camp – Dana Gordon and Jeneen; the staff at Thalia Hall, who went above and beyond; and of course, Don and Chloe for making this happen.