Alternative rock swung into high gear following grunge’s peak in 1994, lasting roughly up through the release of Arcade Fire’s Funeral, just as blogs began their reign of musical bashing. This tender ten-year period was when I was learning how to listen to music. Born in 1992, my premier moment in rock appreciation arrived when I unassumingly name-dropped Three Doors Down’s “Kryptonite” as my father toggled between radio stations. I was eight years old and he called me a “music savant.”
Today, Toadies’ Rubberneck rests easy in my library and the Everclear greatest-hits mix I burned for myself has been played countless times since the summer of 2008. For me, “Father of Mine” defines the late Nineties: slightly heavy, angst-ridden, vulnerable, and — as the backing vocals begin to harmonize during the rising bridge before the final chorus — inspiring. To be able to witness this song performed live would be the climax of my late-Nineties time-hop, a throwback on a Tuesday that took place at Irving Plaza for Summerland 2015’s NYC stop.
I’m now 23, so why did I opt to review Summerland? The reason why I went is simple: Last time I was around for a show like this I was too young to drive or even ignore my right to vote, and I wanted to see how hits born right around the same time I was are faring in a live setting in 2015.
This summer marks the fourth outing for the nostalgic Nineties tour, originally created by Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath and Everclear’s Art Alexakis. (McGrath has since departed from Summerland’s operations.) You have to hand it to these gentlemen for their clever dealings with longevity. This isn’t a knock on either band, but the success of a tour like Summerland — which, in 2015, includes Fuel, Toadies, and American Hi-Fi — relies on strength in numbers and nostalgic tendencies. And judging by the strong turnout at Irving, it’s been working out well.
Summerland runs like clockwork and at 7:30 p.m. sharp American Hi-Fi appeared onstage. This was the kind of band my older sister use to torture me with whenever she had to pick me up from middle school. I could never really understand the appeal of this stepchild of hair-metal and pop-punk. The songs detailing jerky boyfriends who were “too stoned” and something about Nintendo didn’t do it for me; Blink-182 had already given me everything I needed in this regard.
When the band took the stage I saw that they’ve aged well and their musicianship was just as tight as I assume it was when their 2001 debut soared on the success of “Flavor of the Weak” (plus that song “The Art of Losing” from The Perfect Score movie trailer). While American Hi-Fi were undeniably on point, hearing a 44-year-old man sing about a failed relationship from years ago (“The Break Up Song”) or pining for a never-received phone call (“Another Perfect Day”) came off as kinda hokey. Still, Stacy Jones knew how to work the crowd, and he’s gotten plenty of practice even when not on the road with AHF: Jones is Miley Cyrus’s musical director and touring drummer; he’d later hop onstage to take the kit for Everclear’s set, too.
By 8:20 p.m. Fuel were engaged and enraged with their hard rock and boots. Fuel’s bassist is temporarily out, so subbing in is Phil Buckman, who used to play with fellow Nineties rockers (and Summerland alums) Filter. He’s also currently ripped, with muscles seeping out of his black shirt. I would never crack a wise-ass remark about nostalgia tours in front of him, because I’m sure it would result in clobber time. His badass physique complemented Fuel’s badass persona, and singer Brett Scallions’s golden pipes roared. Scallions posed a question to the crowd he wouldn’t have during “Shimmer”?’s heyday, probably: “I’m a dad now — we got some parents in the house?” He then took a moment to get the crowd to say hello to his two kids, who were streaming the show via YahooLive.
Before their set, I assumed Fuel’s performance was going to be some half-hearted pile-drive just to lead up to “Hemorrhage (In My Hands),” 2000’s career-making scorcher, the other songs serving as the price you had to pay in order to hear that awesome rocker. But I had to eat those assumptions, because Fuel is a hard-rock delight, with Scallions singing in a style Nickelback could only dream of. I found myself nodding along to Fuel’s set, and I noticed I wasn’t the only one.
Next up were Toadies, an easy favorite from the evening. Not only does “Possum Kingdom” continue to rule in 2015, but bandleader Vaden Todd Lewis portrays this captivatingly twisted presence when he sings about luring a victim behind a boathouse, thereupon to reveal some dark secret. Although “Possum Kingdom” is Toadies’ calling card, the 1995 hit wasn’t the show’s anchor. Toadies hit all the major points off Rubberneck, which sounded delightfully drenched in sludge, and shared a few cuts from a forthcoming LP (due later this year). Alexakis referred to Toadies as “a little left of everybody else” in his introduction, and it couldn’t have been phrased better.
At 10:20 p.m. on the dot, Everclear took the stage — and I was ready for them. Alexakis is the band’s only remaining founding member, and while Everclear has expanded to a five-piece outfit from the original trio, that didn’t feel like a benefit at Irving Plaza: Their sound was clunky at best at the start, and Alexakis appeared to be relatively exhausted at the mic. He would talk-sing the lyrics, rely too often on the crowd to vocally back him up, and even physically he looked a little beat. (His right foot and heel had a brace on it, so hey — everyone can have an off night.) Don’t get me wrong, his heart was clearly still in it — it wasn’t like he was checking his watch, waiting to be paid for the gig — but four extensive summer tours in a row may have begun to take their toll on the Everclear singer.
As the show rolled to its end, the opening strums to “Father of Mine” rang out and Alexakis told the crowd, “I’m not fucking around — help me sing this song!” to which the room happily complied. Alexakis wears his heart on his sleeve, with an enthusiasm that makes it seem like he hasn’t done just that for the past eighteen years. Those power chords haven’t cheapened in their nearly two decades of existence, and Alexakis touched that universal nerve at the peak of the single.
Summerland made for an enjoyable experience, and being present for the glory days of the singles championed over the course of the evening wasn’t a prerequisite for that. The show catered exactly to what fans wanted to hear, in that the majority of the setlists were anchored in the past, and enough material from the present was represented to annul any pathetic considerations. The audience was gleefully engaged, singing along whenever they could, and wildly responsive when there was a demand for more participation.
Before exiting the stage for good, Alexakis ended with a “Summerland” call-and-response chant where the crowd passionately roared back. For a brief moment it was almost as if this past decade of alt-rock recession had just been skipped over. The only difference was that I wasn’t a baby anymore, or a kid throwing vintage cuts on a CD-R; I’d grown up, and these songs had grown along with me.