It’s hard to say how many people on Nicollet Mall for Saturday’s well-stacked Super Bowl Live lineup were locals or out-of-towners, but it’s fair to say an overwhelming majority of them were fans of Minnesota’s celebrated rock scene of the ’80s and ’90s.
The impressive quadrupling of Bob Mould, the Suburbs, the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum on the frigid outdoor stage was arguably the greatest amalgamation of “Heyday”-era Twin Cities rock heroes since the 2004 Rock for Karl benefit for Soul Asylum’s late bassist Karl Mueller.
Thousands of fans turned out despite the ultra-wintry weather and din of other festivities taking over downtown Minneapolis. And lest you think everyone was just there to see the Bowl-related going-ons, a good chunk of the crowd sang along loudly every time one of the acts got to its better-known songs — even if it required the fans to lower their facemasks or loosen their scarves.
It happened early on when Bob Mould and his band played “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” and “Makes No Sense at All,” by his former groups Sugar and Hüsker Dü, respectively. The Suburbs sparked a decent singalong right away with one of its more recent tunes, “Turn the Radio On,” but then they really had the crowd going later on with “Love Is the Law.”
Nearly half of the Jayhawks’ and Soul Asylum’s sets were greeted with fan choruses loud enough to drown out the random Philadelphia Eagles fan walking by yelling out something unintelligible. Even Jimmy Jam, the R&B/pop producer who helped put together the 10-day lineup on Nicollet Mall, recognized the familial hometown vibe going through the crowd.
“There is no warmer place on Earth than right here, right now,” Mr. Jam said as he introduced Soul Asylum.
The acts all had assorted history together, from Mould producing Soul Asylum’s first two albums to the Jayhawks, Soul Asylum and Suburbs all sharing time on the fabled Twin/Tone Records roster. Mould even shed light on an early connection he had with the Suburbs.
“I used to sneak in to see them at the Longhorn with my fake ID when I was 17,” he said. “I love ’em. So much great Minnesota music today.”
One more thing all they had in common: Each avoided just cake-walking through the oldies.
In addition to the other Hüskers classics “Flip Your Wig” and “I Apologize,” Mould tore through both “The Descent” and “Hold On” from two of the three albums he’s put out in a four-year span, 2012-2016. The Suburbs opened with a string of three tunes from their two 2010s albums — including last year’s moody burner “Lost in Transmission” — before striking into the ’80s faves “Rattle My Bones” and “Cows.”
“Here’s a Minnesota song,” ’Burbs frontman Chan Poling quipped of the ode to bovine.
Jayhawks frontman Gary Louris paid tribute to another of the state’s frequently slaughtered fixtures: “Some of us are still getting over the Vikings,” he said, “but we’re happy to have you here in our town.”
Last year’s elegant rocker “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” fit in nicely alongside the older Jayhawks tunes “I’d Run Away,” “Waiting for the Sun” and “Blue,” the latter prompting the warmest moment of the night.
Soul Asylum had them at hello, opening with the first three songs in order off its 1992 breakthrough record “Grave Dancer’s Union,” culminating in “Runaway Train.” With new guitarist Ryan Smith of the Melismatics a natural fit by his side, singer Dave Pirner later poured himself into the more recent, rousing songs “Supersonic” and “Stand Up and Be Strong,” a fitting anthem for a sporty weekend.
All told, the Super Bowl Live setup seemed like a grade-B success. Sound and technical problems perhaps unavoidably persisted in the nasty weather and tricky layout, but the crowds nonetheless always seemed amused and appreciative of the free music, and of the chance to be in the thick of the downtown action.
In fact, things came off so well, how about we try to spark more downtown action and rededicate some of the city’s non-NFL-affiliated resources to an annual music series of a similar scale and setup? Just, you know, schedule it in June and July, not January and February.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658