In the seats: Never going back

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen Times

ASPEN — I ran into my former Aspen Times colleague Allyn Harvey the other day. It happened to be the night after I saw Soul Asylum at Belly Up, and I mentioned that I had attended the show. Then I mentioned that it felt “like being in Seattle in the late ’80s,” and Allyn did me the favor of not punching me in the nuts for such a moronic statement.

I quickly informed Allyn that yes, I knew Soul Asylum was from Minneapolis, not Washington. (Allyn, who did live in Seattle in the ’80s, kindly allowed that Minneapolis’ music scene of the ’80s had a close relation to Seattle’s.) But my error was not a geographical one, it was temporal: Recreating the Seattle music scene was just impossible, and thinking that I might have witnessed something anything like it, especially at a club in Aspen, was just ignorant. The fact is, I hadn’t been to Seattle in the ’80s, hadn’t seen Nirvana and Mudhoney in their ascendant stages, hadn’t shot heroin and passed out at the Crocodile Club or the Off Ramp, hadn’t pledged my allegiance to the Sub Pop record label. I did spend a day or two in Seattle at the tail end of the grunge years, in the spring of 1993. Essentially unaware of the historic music moment, I went for a mountain-bike ride.

Obviously, I couldn’t grasp the confluence of factors — the social dynamics; the presence of Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell; the weather; the need for something, anything, to put an end to the L.A. hair-metal movement — that went into the making of the grunge era. But seeing Soul Asylum at Belly Up makes me wish that I could travel back in time. I always had assumed the grunge scene was too aggressive and angsty for a Grateful Deadhead like me.

But Soul Asylum’s music was well-balanced between distorted chords and the craft of songwriting. Frontman Dave Pirner had that grungy, can’t-give-a-crap air, but he wore it well, nothing affected about it.

Probably the best part of all was that the show did not, in fact, feel like a trip back in time; this wasn’t a nostalgia show. At one point, Pirner announced that the band would be playing a song from their new album (“Delayed Reaction,” released last year); it was possibly my favorite song of the night.

Of course they played “Runaway Train,” Soul Asylum’s monster, Grammy-winning song, which had healthy-looking girls gleefully running from the back of the club to the lip of the stage for a sing-along, which, come to think of it, is not at all the way I think of Seattle in the ’80s.