The first Rock for Karl concert in 2004 was truly one for the ages: An intersecting, all-star lineup of Twin Cities rockers from the 1980s scene like none seen before or since, including members of Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Jayhawks, Gear Daddies and Soul Asylum.
Sunday's revival of the legendary tribute concert -- renamed the Kill Kancer fundraiser, but still honoring late Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller -- was one where the ages themselves intersected. Veteran howler Curtiss A, 61, who paved the way for a lot of those bands, opened the sold-out show at the Cedar Cultural Center. He was immediately followed by the singer from the buzzing young surf-punk quintet Howler, Jordan Gatesmith, who wasn't even alive in the '80s. Then came the Magnolias, a group that always fell in Soul Asylum's shadow in the early '90s, before a band that famously fell off the Soul Asylum and Jayhawks family trees, Golden Smog.
Sunday's concert involved enough fresh faces and new energy to suggest it should become a regular tribute to Mueller, who passed away seven years ago this week from esophageal cancer. Money raised for the Karl Fund will go to Minnesota Medical Foundation, whose Dr. Jonathan D'Cunha performed research surgery on Mueller and told a temporarily hushed crowd on Sunday, "His legacy lives on in the operating room."
It lives on in the music world, too, which will welcome back Soul Asylum with its first Mueller-less album next month (the release party is July 20 at First Avenue). Mueller's bandmates Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner played a short duo set Sunday that included an unreleased song about their late friend, plus their early-era nugget "Never Really Been."
A band that arguably never really was, Pirner's little-remembered trio the O'Jeez -- with Jessy Greene (former violinist for the Foo Fighters and Jayhawks) and Kraig Johnson (Golden Smog, Run Westy Run) -- played a surprise reunion set. It was hardly as momentous as when Bob Mould and Grant Hart played their one and only post-Hüsker Dü set together at Rock for Karl. Still, the O'Jeez members at least looked to be having a lot more fun.
You couldn't really call Golden Smog's two-hour performance a reunion, since the group continues to gig sporadically with its core lineup, featuring Murphy, Johnson and Jayhawks members Gary Louris and Marc Perlman. Sunday's show featured a handful of auxiliary members who arguably were the MVPs of the night. Among them was Suburbs and New Standards singer/keyboardist Chan Poling, who lost his wife, Eleanor Mondale Poling, to brain cancer last September.
"I have a vested interest in tonight's cause," Poling noted simply before delivering an extra-somber version of Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down." He also provided a high note later in the set with a twanged-up version of the Suburbs' "Girlfriend." Also joining the Smog were Jayhawks drummer Tim O'Reagan, who sang a stirring, soulful version of John Cale's "Big White Cloud;" ex-Son Volt bassist Jim Boquist, who helped raise the rousing pre-encore finale, "Until You Came Along"; and former Astronaut Wife singer Janey Winterbauer, who led the band through the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" and sounded especially golden on the Perlman-penned gem "Cure for This."
During his opening set with a new band, Dark Click, Curtiss A pounded his way through old nuggets such as "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "High and Lonesome" (in tribute to ex-Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap, who is recovering from a stroke). Gatesmith performed all by his lonesome, playing raw but impressively rocking versions of such Howler tunes as "Told You Once" while noting he had known Karl and his widow, Mary Beth Mueller, since he was born (they were neighbors).
"This is very special," Gatesmith said, maybe the most succinct and correct thing he has said in public all year.
Follow Riemenschneider on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib