St Paul Pioneer Press
October 22, 1998

Let's hear it for that guy
who sat in with the band

WHO: The Mason Jennings Band with Dave Pirner
WHEN: Monday
WHERE: 400 Bar
CAPSULE: Soul Asylum singer/songwriter Pirner joined
up-and-coming songwriter Jennings for a surprise
three-song set that reminded all who were there of the
kind of blissful improvisation and risk-taking that can
only happen in an away-from-the-masses club.

Pop Music Critic

        It was just before midnight Monday, and the
crowd at the 400 Bar on the West Bank of Minneapolis
numbered exactly 20 -- and that includes the
bartenders, soundman and the musicians onstage. One of
those musicians, Dave Pirner, has sung in front of
hundreds of thousands of people at a time. As the
guiding light behind Soul Asylum, Pirner has performed
on the White House lawn and to national television
audiences. He has appeared on the cover of Rolling
Stone magazine, toured the world over and sold
millions of records. Another one of those musicians,
Mason Jennings, has had trouble selling 500 copies of
his self-produced, self-released debut CD. He is one
of the brightest new songwriters in the Twin Cities,
but in these days of fractured and/or unadventurous
club-goers, he's struggling to find an audience. This
night, however, the two songwriters -- the seasoned
elder and the young buck -- found equal ground on the
400 stage, as Pirner joined the Jennings band for an
unannounced three-song set. The greater part of the
evening was given to Jennings who, along with his ace
band (bassist/vocalist Robert Skoro and drummer Chris
Strock), performed two wonderful sets of his own
material, including "Butterfly,'' "California,''
"Nothing'' and "Godless.'' The spare,
acoustic-framed rock trio was more than holding its
own with the small but attentive audience when 400 Bar
owner Bill Sullivan yelled from the front bar, "Hey,
Mason! Mind if my friend plays a few with you guys?''
Jennings glanced over to see Pirner sitting at the
bar, and waved his consent. A few minutes later, when
Pirner ambled onstage with his acoustic guitar, it was
the first time the musicians had ever met, let alone
played together. What happened next was a marvelous
testament to the spirit of risk-taking, musical
spontaneity and to the riches that can be had only
from trolling clubs, away from the numbers. The
setting was so intimate, barflies could hear Pirner
explaining the chord changes and arrangements to the
young band, who appeared alternately nervous, cocksure
and blown away. They wobbled through a version of
TLC's "Waterfalls,'' which lurched at first, then
found an easy groove. That was followed by a subdued
version of Soul Asylum's "To My Own Devices,'' with
Jennings adding flamenco-flavored classical guitar
touches. "I feel like I'm from out of town, and I
just found a kick-ass pickup band,'' cracked Pirner,
who had just returned from a promotional radio and
television tour, and was in town briefly before Soul
Asylum left Wednesday for the Southern leg of their
most recent tour. "This one is pretty emotional for
me, so it might be tough,'' said Pirner, before going
into Sinead O'Connor's "To Mother You.'' Pirner's
obvious affection for the song, coupled with the
band's unfamiliarity with it, made for a fascinating
dynamic: Everybody in the pub inhaled, wondering if
the ad-hoc group would make it through the song. Would
Pirner give up in frustration? Would the young trio
rise to the occasion? In the end, the song soared, and
the room pitched a bit. And even though the crowd was
smaller than what any respectable street busker
attracts, Pirner, ever the singer/showman swept away
by the moment, emoted his way through O'Connor's
stately, undiscovered gem like his life depended on
it.When it was done, he thanked the trio, got
off-stage to the sound of a few hands clapping and,
with a squirrelly smirk, said, "Thanks, you guys.''
Jennings' crew finished the night with two songs, and
everybody retired to the bar. In a recent interview,
Jennings said, "You've got to talk to the people
you're singing to. There's a boundary between you and
the singer, and I'm trying to get rid of that
boundary.'' Monday night at the 400 Bar, the boundary
between the audience and the singer was razed, shot,
demolished. Just ask those who were there. All 20 of

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