Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Summerland 2012: 90's Nostalgia in the form of Everclear, Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray and more live in concert...

Beautiful Melodies Telling you Terrible Things Vol. 90's Nostalgia

I'm thankful to have been a kid and early teenager in the 90's. See, when you're that age mostly the music your attracted to is the best stuff off of what is considered the coolest radio stations. Lady Hawk teaches some youngsters and the cool stations these days mostly play dance and rap and pop, and thus the coolest stuff is Katy Perry and "Moves like Jagger" even though they have no clue who "Jagger" is.  When I was their age the coolest stations were alt rock ones, we were living on the breadcrumbs of the early 90's grunge scene. Our hero was still Kurt Cobain who was recently deceased and our bands sang about thing like about that moment as children you lose innocence and young-man-angst and all sorts of positive re-enforcement. We didn't have Katy Perry blowing cupcakes out of her breasts or Lady Gaga pretending to be the meat-slab from Rocky. No friends, we had Fiona Apple in her panties, sweaty, proclaiming to be a "bad, bad girl" and Tori Amos singing about masturbation on Letterman. Our bands weren't named after hip-today-gone-tomorrow text lingo, they were named after hard liquor and depressing meanings. My notebooks didn't have pictures of Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez on them, it was an evil empire 'E.' I'll say it, it was glorious, and for that reason alone I was glad to attend what can best be described as 1990's alternative-rock nostalgia in the form of the "Summerland Tour" stop at Comerica Theatre the Tuesday before July 4th. Let's get to it...
The Venue: Comerica Theatre (Formerly known as the Dodge): I saw a lot of shows when this was the Dodge, circa 2007-08 I saw probably 80% of the shows it featured in that span, for better or for worse. My last show at "the Dodge" would be Joe Cocker (opener was Paul Freeman) in mid-2009, it would then shut down after a fire and ultimately re-open as the Comerica, my first show back being last summer for Bob Dylan. It hasn't changed too much from the Dodge days, there is less guitar memorabilia to be found inside and there's a cool piano-key themed stair set-ub now to the upper club and balcony section, but it's still pretty feels like the Dodge. Most every seat is a solid enough view, the sound is great throughout, the seats have always been comfortable but now have added legroom, and the security and vendors are always in pretty good spirits, you won't find me getting into too many fights here. Even when chubby Chicken-Fingers-Server-man almost hops over the counter to get a better look at Lady Hawk's legs in her dress, I can't complain too much, I mean I just finally got a Gin Blossoms shirt!

Act ONE: Marcy Playground - Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray, sounding more like the version of himself that sells 70's and 80's CD sets for TimeLife on infomercials, over-sold every band he introduced (that's every band, he was sort of MC of the night) but he did mention before Marcy came out that those who show up early enough to catch the opening band are "the best type of rock n roll fans." I give that credit, it's true. Marcy wasn't the worst act of the night, and for that I feel bad for them. They had their gear basically just barely put on stage in front of Lit's already set up gear, they had no major introduction or band flag, and the venue was maybe a third-full at this point. Their self-titled album is their best work, and thus that's why the couple of new tunes they played didn't do a whole lot for me, mainly for them it was "Sex and Candy" and "Poppies" that held their set up. It seemed the other stuff they played (later records) just doesn't have that same vibe. The lead singer has obviously changed his look and put one some weight since their 90's heyday, but then again, you can't live on music videos about wet dreams forever.
Highlight of the Night: "Sex and Candy" is their best song from their radio days, and it still is. The real highlight is when they played their mile-high-club song "Up and Down"and Lady Hawk goes "Okay, what's worse, this or "Dead or Alive on the 405?"" Good call. 2.75/5
Some rock-n-rollers get older and still try to play Lothario with the ladies.
Some just...don't try anymore. At all. 

Act TWO: Lit - Okay, rock-n-roll concert 101: When you're 2nd in on a 5-act show, you're not exactly who 90% of the audience is there to see, so don't act like you're blessing us with your presence. First, they drop a huge "Lit" band flag over the stage, and then an overly-long lights go out, play a clip from Blues Brothers, then go into guitar feedback intro to you guys coming out. Then definitely don't play two songs, then leave the stage, let it go dark, play another movie clip and do an overly long guitar feedback intro into a second entrance. Also, when you're like 45, don't dress like a 20-year old 90's version of Sid Vicious and then take your shirt off. Also, stepping onto the drum set and taking shots of Jager only to spit it into the air ala Triple H from WWE makes me want to punch you in the face. Want the positives? Naw, let's get back to the negatives: When one of the few songs you introduce gets the "well heres one off the American Pie 2 soundtrack for ya'!" you're not impressing anyone. No one. I lied actually, a lot of mid-30's drunk babes were really into this band. I suppose it took them back to Woodstock '99.
Highlight of the Night: Their best song is "My Own Worst Enemy," and the album it was on, A Place in the Sun is their best work. For whatever reason, some bands don't understand when they get a sound the radio goes for, and then they go in some kind of different direction while the radio play doesn't follow. Anyhow, for the half of their set that came from the album, that was their best songs, and as I said, "My Own Worst Enemy" was their highlight. Really, the fact they made such a big deal of their entrance is what was the put off. Once again, as Lady Hawk put it: "Hopefully there's a mirror backstage, because you know he wants to masturbate to himself because that's the closest he's gonna get to screwing himself, which is what he wants most out of life." 1.5/5
Does he realize how stupid he looks at this point in his life?
Well, obviously it's not quite stupid enough because he's heading over to take a shot of Jager and spit it out Tripe H style...KILLER!! PUNK ROCK BABY!!

Lit gets a huge backdrop sign, the Gin Blossoms? Nada. Yeah, that makes sense...
Act THREE: Gin Blossoms - Mark McGrath and Art from Everclear announced the Gin Blossoms, and while Mark was correct in talking about how there really isn't another alt-rock 90's band who enjoyed the type of radio success the Gin Blossoms had, he also had to do his infomercial over-exaggerate moment when he jokingly described them as "having more hits than the Beatles." I've seen the Gin Blossoms live before, and I'm sure I'll see them again. They know how to put together a live show, and lead-singer Robin Wilson always does a great job of fan interaction: high-fiving front row fans, handing out tambourines (Robin makes the tambourine look never quite so simultaneously awesome and lame when he jumps up on drum sets to play it) to anyone who will take them, posing for cell phone pics and always remembering to shout out "get your hands up!" There was a group about three rows up of seven or so that always took that statement as a chance to do a group drinks in the air toast. It looked as lame as it sounds. They only played one song off of their latest LP No Chocolate Cake, the appropriately high tempo (and works better live than in studio) "I'm Ready," while mostly sticking with their biggest 90's release, the Doug Hopkins-driven New Miserable Experience - "Allison Road," "Until I Fall Away," "Hey Jealousy" (their set closer) and the song the Phoenix New Times once chose as the greatest Arizona song of all time, "Found out About You." They opened up, as they often do, with their biggest hit off of 1996's Congratulations I'm Sorry, "Follow You Down," with Robin adding the harmonica. Robin always seems happy to be performing in Arizona, and always loves to give a shout out to Chandler Skate Park and Restaurant Mexico. They also included a cover - Plimsouls "A MIllion Miles Away," and finished up the obligatory Robin leaping over the guard rail and finishing up "Hey Jealousy" in the first few rows. The bass and lower ends were a little high for the first couple of songs, but by mid-set the sound was near perfect. The funniest moment came when t one point Jesse (backing vocals/lead/rhythm guitarist) mentioned you know you're home when your Dentist and mother are in the audience to which Robin, full of wit, retorted "you know that backstage party is gonna f**king rock tonight!"
Highlight of the Night: The crowd really ate up "'Til I Hear it from You," their hit single from the Empire Records soundtrack, and when the band is going strong and the crowd is into it, it makes for a great experience. I'll never tire of hearing "Hey Jealousy" live though...I was hoping for Doug Hopkins' "Dream with You" to make an appearance, being Robin mentioned it in the recent Rolling Stones interview, but their brisk set was hard to complain over. The final highlight? The always hilarious shots Lady Hawk gets of lead/rhythm guitarist Scott Johnson, that guy thinks he's God's gift to man, and it makes for hilarious photography... 4/5
Ahh, Scotty Johnson.
Making the rest of us who didn't make it in rock n' roll feel a whole let less worse about it. 

Act FOUR: Sugar Ray - Mark McGrath changed clothes in between every on-stage appearance he made, and for his band's performance itself came out in a white suit looking like a Vanilla Ice version of Saturday Night Fever. Add in the band came out to the theme song for Saved by the Bell, and I knew I was in a for good time full of laughs. He had the nostalgia factor all over his set (also taking time to play a few seconds of the Seinfeld theme and going through a bit of "Wipeout") including mentioning how he once lost an Arizona girl to some jock named Jake "The Snake" Plummer. The thing about this show of 5 acts, meant that your setlist is gonna be a little shorter than say a full on 100-120 minute show on your own. This was perfect for Sugar Ray in that for 90% of their stage-time, which included a Cheap Trick-esque logo as their backdrop - it was full on late 90's hits such as "Someday," "When it's Over," "Every Morning" (which he described as a #1 song from 1999) and of course "Fly," which I opted to add the Shaggy re-mix parts in myself, in between asking Mark to take his pants off. I'm not sure why I added the latter remarks, but the looks they got from old lady in her sunglasses at night and slutty-mcgee from Night at the Roxbury made it well worth it. McGrath's voice in truth, isn't that good, and also in truth, isn't that strong, but he certainly was doing his best to utilize it to the best potential he could, and was also doing his best in working the crowd. A somewhat strange moment came when they played the lesser known "Mean Machine" and segued into the Ramones "Blitzkrieg Bop." It got the crowd shoving fists in the air (or at least fists in their drinks) but it seemed sort of out of place.
Highlight of the Night: The highlight came when during the last song, "Fly," McGrath headed about halfway back into the audience and started choosing fans to help sing a verse or chorus. At one point telling a girl's boyfriend "she's mine tonight!" McGrath more often than not comes off as a bit of a douche, but in that lovable douche way, not the you want to punch his lights out douche way. 3.5/5
Mark prepares for legal crucification over his cheap trick of stealing Cheap Trick's logo...

Act FIVE: Everclear - Marky-mark McGrath also introduced the final act of the night (which, by the way I must add I was glad to find that Everclear and not Sugar Ray was headlining this thing) as one of the most prolific songwriters of their era, and that's probably true. Alexakis' songwriting was highly influential during their heyday (often getting Kurt Cobain comparisons, though as Dave Grohl himself said, they are totally different) and leading into getting some very melancholic songs on the radio. Off and on during the set, and from the beginning with the opener "So Much for the Afterglow," there were microphone issues that hampered the enjoyment of the performance, and the issue also seemed to annoy Art Alexakis enough to sometimes not seem to put full effort into a song, almost talk-singing his way through as he waited for someone to fix the problem. Between songs he was chatty, and got a great reaction in mentioning his wife was from Tucson and they named their daughter Arizona. Thankfully, the song most people wanted to hear - songs like "Santa Monica" (which he mentioned playing at a club in Tempe the night after shooting the music video for it in California and seeing the reaction the crowd had to it, "We knew we might have a career in this") as well as "Everything to Everyone," "I Will Buy You a New Life," "Wonderful" and the more for hardcore Everclear fans "Heroin Girl" were ones that didn't seem to suffer so much in the microphone issues area, but were not all completely immune. They also played a song off of their just released (and quite decent) album, "Be Careful what you Ask For," which Art mentioned Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms had told him was his favorite song of his that he had ever written. The group has a piano on-stage nowadays and that added to the melancholy of the lyrics, especially on "Wonderful." Interestingly enough, "Summerland" was not played during this Summerland show.
Highlight of the Night: After leaving the stage, half the audience strolling out, "Blister in the Sun" playing on the PA system, Art comes back out, for what seemed impromptu but could have been just set up that way, encore. He brings up on stage 15 or so of the hottest girls he can find in the front two rows, including his own wife, and has them dance on-stage as they do their cover of "Jenny" (867-5309) which they released on a covers album some years back. The best part was there was a girl who wasn't dancing, he gave her a chance to start, she didn't, so he kicked her off the stage. Even going as far as having security come and get off when she didn't initially take him serious, just awesome. The show would get a higher score if it wasn't for the microphone issues, and I must say, I would have loved to see this band circa 1996-1998. Overall a 3.75/5
Art Alexakis: Living the 50 Year Old's Dream

Four+ hours in, it was over and we were off to Denny's to enjoy mediocre service and cold coffee. A highlight of the night all unto itself....

Tuneful of Sugar: For those who find sarcastic words and pretty pictures to not be enough...

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