Also known as the MTV Alternative Nation Tour, this three-band road show, which ended its summerlong national run in Las Vegas Monday night, may be musically alternative for MTV, but packaging two top 10 selling bands with rising grunge band the Screaming Trees is hardly alternative.
Trivialities aside, the show made for a pleasing enough evening, though as all three acts have been through town many times of late, the concert’s theme was familiarity.
The Spin Doctors, New York’s late-model answer to the Grateful Dead, have evolved into a sharp and effective funk-based jam outfit, one givento midsong launches into musical nether worlds, some of which work well and some of which don’t.
Though the Doctors’ delivery and personality reek of Deadhead-isms, the music itself actually sports a funk bottom-end and Led Zep-like riffs that keep the songs sounding somewhat spontaneous. Few things irritate as much as a jam-oriented band that sounds too stiff and rehearsed, a crime the Spin Doctors commit occasionally.
But the woodsy setting of the Greek obviously set well with the Epic four-piece band, which turned in one of its more engaging L.A. gigs. Opener “What Time Is It,” during which frontman/scarecrow Chris Barron launched into a riotous cartwheel routine; the Dick Dale-inspired stomp of “More Than She Knows”; the off-time “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” and hit “Two Princes” were high points from a band that makes good-time, throw-away rock ‘n’ roll fun again — angst-ridden grunge poseurs be damned.
Soul Asylum, a former minor league all-star, has finally made it to the bigs, and the band is making the most of its sudden popularity. Always a potent and ferocious live act, the Minneapolis-based group, signed to Columbia, has made the delicate transition to larger venues and thankfully has retained its trademark urgent edge.
Credit singer Dave Pirner as the quartet, following his bold lead, has shown the ability to appeal to increasingly larger groups while maintaining its sizable and quite rabid core audience. Like the (early) Replacements before them , Soul Asylum has a seemingly instinctive presence on the concert stage, drawing in the audience with tales that hit a majority of those present where they live — in their souls. Smash hit “Runaway Train” and should-be hit “Black Gold” are prime examples of this.
Other highlights of Soul Asylum’s sharp 50-minute set included oldie “Easy Street” and “Summer of Drugs,” a tune written by friend Victoria Williams. Though stricken with multiple sclerosis, Williams joined the band on this one and “Runaway Train.”
It was touching, and another example that this is a band with both head and heart in the right place.
Epic’s Screaming Trees opened the show and, despite playing in the shadow of the evening’s two-star attractions, more than held their own. The dynamic “Winter Song,” powerful “Julie Paradise” (in which the band’s hefty guitar player launched into his own version of the “Curly Shuffle”), and “Singles” soundtrack hit “Nearly Lost You” point this grungy bunch toward a bright future, possibly following the commercial lead of the bands that they shared this tour with.