It's a not-so-grand tradition for the fellas of Soul Asylum to cut loose and go a little crazy at the end of their sets this time every year at First Avenue. On Friday, however, they were at their weirdest and wildest right at the start of the nearly 1¾-hour show. Never mind that they opened with a song I bet the band hasn't played in 15 years, "Artificial Heart" (from 1989's "Clam Dip & Other Delights" EP). They performed it from behind the stage's big movie screen while the tune's little-seen, very lo-fi but absolutely riotous, bloodfest of a video rolled out front. Alas, I can't even find the video on Youtube now. When the screen finally went up, a timpani drum player greeted the crowd alongside the band to help raise another rarity of recent years, "Marionette." And away we go...


Things quickly settled into more of a convetional Soul Asylum show, but with plenty more twists. Bassist Pete Donnelly of the opening band the Figgs proved a perfectly adept but also not too by-the-numbers replacement for his pal Tommy Stinson. Keyboardist extraordinaire Tommy Barbarella -- a Prince alum like Soul Asylum's current and most longevous drummer ever, Michael Bland -- added even more to the mix, pumping up "Gone Till November," "Lately" and two new songs with organ and piano. The best of those new ones was a rowdy, heavy rocker that sounded like something off the "Hang Time" album.

There were a few more surprises late in the set. After making their usual, never-gets-old shout-out to their late pal and bassist Karl Mueller in "Leave Without a Trace" (whose photo graced the stage), co-leaders Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy also paid homage to another friend who passed away this time last year, Vic Chesnutt. They covered his "When I Ran Off & Left Her" with the same wry gusto as when they recorded it for the second "Sweet Relief" album. In the encore, they also dug up their other "Sweet Relief" track, Victoria Williams' "Summer of Drugs." Neither that one nor the encore's other semi-rarity, "Black Star," had the goofing-off quality that usually pervades the encores at these shows. In fact, it was an unusually strong and serious finish -- so much so, some regulars might've actually left disappointed. Here's the whole set list:

Artificial Heart  /  Marionette  /  Somebody to Shove  /  All Is Well  /  new song  /  Lately  /  Cartoon  /  Gone Till November  /   Whatcha Need  /  Black Gold  /  Leave Without a Trace New World  /  When I Ran Off & Left Her (Vic Chesnutt cover) /  new song  /  Johnny Cash cover?  new song /   Misery  /  I Did My Best  /  Runaway Train  /  Closer to the Stars /  Just Like Anyone (with a little Little Drummer Boy)   ENCORE:  Mercedes Benz (Janis Joplin)  /  Black Star  /  Summer of Drugs (Victoria Williams)  /  Stand Up & Be Strong

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