After singing about crossing a great divide in one of the opening songs, Dan Wilson reminded fans of the sizable chasm his old band Semisonic traversed to enter a new era Wednesday night at Icehouse in Minneapolis.
"This is maybe our fifth or sixth scheduled show since the Basilica," the Grammy-winning songwriter noted, "but it's the first one we've actually come to."
Born out of a restart in the music business, the '90s pop/rock trio of "Closing Time" hitmaking fame had been gearing up for another comeback the last time it played its hometown at the 2019 Basilica Block Party. But then came COVID-19, which spoiled plans around the September 2020 release of Semisonic's first new music in 19 years, the EP "You're Not Alone." Then came the third or fourth wave of the pandemic, which postponed a pair of First Avenue shows and more in September 2021.
Wednesday's gig at the cozy Eat Street supper club — announced just last week and an instant sellout — served as a warmup to the makeup dates now scheduled Friday and Saturday at First Ave (also long since sold out).
The 90-minute performance made it clear that Semisonic isn't just making up for lost time, though.
Starting and ending the show with a couple of deeper cuts from their catalog, "The Prize" and "El Matador," respectively, Wilson and bandmates John Munson (bass) and Jake Slichter (drums) put a fresh spin on the old heyday-era stuff.
More impressively, they also unleashed enough new material at Icehouse to suggest that a new heyday isn't out of the question.
"New," of course, is a relative perspective when it comes to the comfortingly hopeful "You're Not Alone" and another fine cut performed off that 2020 EP, the nostalgic rocker "Basement Tapes." This was the band's first chance to play those 2½-year-old songs live since their release. Based on the enthusiasm — from the audience and band alike — another track or two from it would be welcomed at this weekend's shows.
But Semisonic went even newer than that Wednesday. Three never-before-heard tunes were also dropped into the set list.
The first of those debuts, "Little Bit of Sun," sounded more like folk than it did pop, with Wilson and Munson harmoniously exuding the warmth sorely lacking over the past three months; or years. Munson then took over lead vocals on the more dramatic and downcast second new one, "If You Say So," asking with hints of misery and amazement, "Could it all have really happened?"
Lastly and most excitedly came "The Rope," a jittery, fun, NRBQ-like piano rocker with auxiliary band members Andy Thompson and Ken Chastain factoring in heavily. This wasn't your Girbaud-jeans-wearing uncle's Semisonic.
The old '90s Semisonic was still on bright display here and there, though. Two pre-"Closing Time" nuggets, "F.N.T" and "Across the Great Divide," made for a breezy and bouncy start to the set. "Singing in My Sleep" and the 2001 favorite "Chemistry" were dropped in for midshow singalongs.
Before "Closing Time," Wilson humorously took an audience poll over whether or not the would-be big finish should actually be the final song. An encore predictably won out, and things got even more fun from there.
The band dropped in a classic punk-rock cover song but swore the audience to secrecy to keep it a surprise for one of this weekend's shows — even asking for a social media ban on it (hint: it's a mutual love song; or "like," anyway). And while the Slichter-written "El Matador" made for a somber and stunningly beautiful closer, Wilson couldn't help but note the humor behind them performing it 22 years after its release.
"It's about turning 40 and thinking that it's all over," he said.
What a laughable way to end this particularly strong reboot performance.