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Anticipating Soul Asylum: the beauty of backlash

I remember when Dave Pirner was the kid with the shy smile, ripped jeans and stringy hair, cadging chips and dip at the local record-release parties for the Replacements and Husker Du. You bet he wanted to be Winona Ryder’s boyfriend and a Grammy-winning, platinum-selling rock star.

But, as Paul Westerberg can tell you and Kurt Cobain can’t, Gen-X anti-heroes have a tangled relationship with fame and fortune, with cult worship and peer respect. When Pirner’s band Soul Asylum hit it huge with “Runaway Train” off of “Gravedancer’s Union,” most of the group’s emotional tools lost their context.

That was 16 years ago. In the past decade, Soul Asylum has released exactly one album of new material — “Silver Lining,” in 2006 — and that was a farewell project for dying bassist Karl Mueller, which made the inevitable backlash (for the mediocre material, and as chronic comeuppance for not being martyrs) all the more hurtful.

Ah, but the beauty of backlash is not owing anybody anything — cleaning the slate of context. When Pirner and his lifelong bud Dan Murphy on guitar take the stage at First Ave. on Friday night, they can shred chords like SA’s first incarnation, “Loud Fast Rules,” squat in a circle for a confessional ditty off “Faces and Names,” Pirner’s wonderful solo disc from 2002, or run “Runaway Train” through a Hank Williams filter.

All bets and expectations are off. I can hardly wait.

Soul Asylum. 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19. First Avenue. $17 in advance, $20 at the door.

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