Summerland Tour: Everclear, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Lit, Marcy Playground
Wednesday, July 18
Better than: Watching Empire Records on basic cable.
We make the “remember the ’90s” joke around these parts a fair amount, but this week the alt-rock strain of that decade has been stuffing the air almost as much as the recent wave of hot-mildewed-towel humidity. Green Day, No Doubt, and the Afghan Whigs released new songs on Monday; Tuesday’s relaunch of 101.9 WEMP as a station proudly branding itself as “alternative” brought with it a slew of recurrents that blanketed MTV and in-car cassette decks for the past 15 years, but have been absent from this area’s airwaves for a minute. Among those golden oldies were the biggest hits by the five bands on the bill for the Summerland tour, a traveling carnival of nostalgia led by the daddy-issues-laden SoCal act Everclear and including Marcy Playground, Lit, the Gin Blossoms, and Sugar Ray.
Yesterday’s vaguely apocalyptic weather notwithstanding, the “summerland” decree of the evening was taken very seriously by those in attendance. There were many; Roseland was pretty full for the duration. Among the crowd behaviors witnessed were bro-hugs, mosh pits, self-portraits, slow dances, and glee about being able to buy beers while hearing “Hey Jealousy” live. (So infectious was this particular strain of excitement that both ATMs on the main floor of Roseland, where the bars are cash-only, ran out of money.) At one point between bands the two of us let loose in the middle of the floor because whoever was programming the interstitial music had decided to drop the Breeders’ still-life-affirming “Cannonball.” (Instagram be damned.) Later, one of us retold the story of having a debate with a record store clerk over the relative influence of Kurt Cobain and Shannon Hoon.
Marcy Playground has one song. They played maybe eight. The others traveled a kind of mid-’90s Archers of Loaf worship that was pleasant and inviting, if difficult to access nostalgically. You recognized the ’90s in it, but slowly, neurochemically. They played “Sex and Candy” last and the crowd erupted, swiveling, sashaying, firmly knowing its edges. Guitarist John Wozniak invited the crowd to sing the final chorus, but it was already karaoke, uncontrollably peopled.
Lit are the proto-Buckcherry, a band for whom AC/DC is an unreachable, heavenly model, and so they settle somewhere amid the realm of L.A. Guns and other acts that spotlight the Golden State’s grimy underbelly. This is weird and dissonant, because the songs from their first record, if anything, approach pop-punk: clean, open chords are arranged in some kind of triumph, with a dude orbiting it all nasally. Their new songs lifted slowly from a glittering filth. They ended their set with a request to the crowd to lift their middle fingers with brio so they could snap a picture—a fuck-the-man gesture reminiscent of the era that spawned them, save the part where they asked all of us to tag ourselves after the photo was posted on Facebook.
The Gin Blossoms were influenced in equal amounts by jangle pop and The Replacements and in the curious position to gain real traction on the radio. Their set on Wednesday was expertly deployed—take every Gin Blossoms hit, add a cover of the Plimsouls’ “A Million Miles Away” (for powerpop cred) and “Lost Horizons,” and you have a 45-minute set that pleasantly surprises the less nomenclature-inclined members of the crowd. “Oh, they did this song?” one of us asked the other with actual incredulity.
Sugar Ray is led by someone who’s transcended his alt-rock pedigree and achieved something resembling fame—Mark McGrath, Access Hollywood host and aspiring Celebrity Apprentice—and they accordingly had the highest quotient of showmanship that had nothing to do with their lighter-than-air hits; they had literal karaoke installed into their set. They invited two audience members on stage and tossed one into “Fight For Your Right” and the other, nervously, incompletely, into “I Gotta Feeling.” It was ostensibly a competition but there was no clear winner. The crowd offered identical volumes of praise. They were at Summerland, smiling insanely; they had already won.
Everclear sounded clean and machine-perfect, which didn’t totally disguise how Art Alexakis has degraded in spirit; “Father of Mine” is a weird, vertiginous way to open a set. His voice has mostly retreated, leaving a smoky absence. He sings, you hear polyps and distance. Every song shifted in key, to compensate. Sharp piano chords rang out overhead. “You all know the lyrics to this song,” said bassist Freddy Herrera, clapping his hands, implicating us. We didn’t know it; we had been displaced. It turned out to be “Wonderful.”
After the show, we went to karaoke with the express purpose of performing the biggest songs by the bill’s bands. But things got derailed thanks to one of us (not Brad) starting things off with fun.’s “We Are Young” and besides, what could improve on the experience of shouting “PLEASE-TELL-ME-WHYYYYYYY-YYYY-MY CAR IS IN THE FRONT YARD” with 2,500 others drunk on the offerings of the bar and the memories of days gone by?
Critical bias: Remember The ’90s Stockholm Syndrome set in sometime during Gin Blossoms’ set.
Overheard: “This is so Empire Records!” “Best. Movie. Ever.”
Random notebook dump: One crowdsurfer had a tambourine, and he later augmented it with a drumstick. If the show had run until closing time he probably would have somehow acquired a bongo.
Set list (of songs played between bands):
Butthole Surfers, “Pepper”
Rage Against the Machine, “Bulls on Parade”
Cake, “The Distance”
Oasis, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star”
Jane’s Addiction, “Mountain Song”
Beastie Boys, “So What’cha Want”
The Breeders, “Cannonball”
Foo Fighters, “Everlong”
Veruca Salt, “Seether”
Blind Melon, “No Rain”
Nine Inch Nails, “Closer”