400 Bar..Pirner makes special appearance
from St Paul Pioneer Press
Published: Thursday, 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 10/19/98
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.
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, cort 98, dave-o playing le trumpetDave 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
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
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
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 them.

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