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John Lamb, Published December 05 2009

Lamb: Soul Asylum show freebies a mystery

The good news is that tonight’s Soul Asylum show is free. The bad news is that it’s free because apparently not enough tickets were sold to see what, 20 years ago, was widely heralded as “the best live band in America.”

They’ve long since relinquished that title, but those who saw the group’s Rib Fest set in 2008 know the band still puts on a fun show. (Sadly, tonight singer/guitarist Dave Pirner won’t be able to lick his lips at jokes like, “I haven’t seen this many ribs since I partied with Kate Moss.”)

Wednesday’s announcement by the show’s promoter, Jade Presents, didn’t say anything about ticket sales, only that: “In the spirit of the holiday season, FM 105.1 and The Hub want to give back to the Fargo-Moorhead community with a free Soul Asylum concert. ... Get into the holiday spirit right with the gift of great music!”

Those who did buy tickets can get a full refund at the point of purchase and those who paid with a credit card get an automatic refund.

A free concert by one of the best bands to ever come out of Minneapolis? That’s a pretty sweet gift.

Or maybe bittersweet.

On Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, more than 1,000 people packed into The Venue to see the Gear Daddies. Ticket prices for the two shows were the same, $15. And that’s where things don’t add up.

The Gear Daddies released two studio albums and one collection of rarities and outtakes between 1988 and ’92 when the foursome from Austin, Minn., broke up. They (or at least singer/guitarist Martin Zellar and guitarist Randy Broughten) appeared on Letterman once and never scored a song that charted, though hockey law dictates “Zamboni” be used during period breaks and every “Mighty Ducks” movie.

Soul Asylum has nine studio discs, three greatest hits, one collection of outtakes and a live disc from when the group played the Grand Forks, N.D., prom in an Air Force hangar after the 1997 flood.

The Soul singers have played Letterman (twice), Leno, “Saturday Night Live,” even Bill Clinton’s inauguration, and became the poster band for runaway children with their top 10, Grammy-winning hit, “Runaway Train.”

Soul Asylum even added star power, bringing in former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson. And if it’s stars you want, Pirner dated Winona Ryder, and lined up Claire Danes, George Wendt and Steven Wright to appear in videos.

So why will 1,000-some people pay $15 ($20 at the door) to see just about the same show they saw 17 years ago and not do the same to see a group of more accomplished, energetic musicians perform some golden oldies, mix in some newer material and throw in a couple of fun covers?

No one is funding grants to study this, so my thoughts are only coffee-fueled speculation: While Soul Asylum had the bigger career in every sense, they had less of an impact locally. The Gear Daddies played NDSU fraternities before moving up to Kirby’s and then even bigger college halls.

(Heck, Martin Zellar already announced a solo return Jan. 29 at the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre.)

Soul Asylum didn’t play Fargo until they performed in what used to be Playmakers Pavilion (now The Venue) in 2002.

Fans remember those Gear shows (for some of us they are fuzzy memories) and maybe meeting the band. People are more inclined (especially around this time of the year) to open their wallets to reminisce about the past than to open up to something new.

To take the title of a Soul Asylum song, “Nice Guys (Don’t Get Paid).”

If you go