The announcement of the Summerland Tour (an a la carte delight of prominent '90s soul-patch rock bands Everclear, Sugar Ray, Lit,The Gin Blossoms, and Marcy Playground) has me thinking hard about nostalgia. I learned of the tour's Phoenix date, July 3 at Comerica Theatre, just after finishing Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past, a book about retro revivals and musical nostalgia by critic Simon Reynolds that came out last September.
I was born in 1987, thus the Summerland Tour is a tempting array of bands that brought about my initial appreciation for music. It also looks like the first of many nostalgia traps aimed to capitalize on my fading adolescent memories. With all of these bands reaching the height of their popularity as I barely became musically cognizant, is it doubly destructive to not only romanticize my past but also spend good money harkening to a period that I don't even consider that crucial?
My relationship with all of these bands began when I was only ten years old through Valley alt-rock stations like The Zone 101.5, who kept up all those radio standards like call-in-and-win ticket contests until its quasi-edgy contemporary format was deemed unprofitable. Make no mistake: some of these bands are plainly lame. Lit, best known for nasally, watered-down SoCal anthem "My Own Worst Enemy," is pretty much indefensible. But I can still get behind some of these bands, even in 2012.
Like any Maricopa County resident who had a pulse in the '90s, I am intimately familiar with the radio hits of the Gin Blossoms. The Blossoms are a Tempe institution that apparently runs much deeper than I thought. Last year, during a punk show at notorious residential Tempe venue YOBS, somebody put on a cassette copy of New Miserable Experience to the sincere delight of a number of attendees I did not have pegged as power pop enthusiasts. It was the kind of reaction I would have expected for Torch of the Mystics, not "Hey Jealousy."
Marcy Playground is of course known best for the lazy come-on "Sex and Candy," but the band released a number of respectable power pop albums below the radar. In the same way I think Archers of Loaf singer Eric Bachmann kind of sounds like Gavin Rosdale from Bush, "Sex and Candy" could vaguely resemble tame Pavement if the indie rock titans were founded in L.A. and never caught a glimpse of any Fall records after graduating from Beverly Hills High. Or maybe I'm just comfortable imagining Stephen Malkmus hypothetically penning shit like "disco lemonade" and "Mama, this surely is a dream."
The best thing I can say about Sugar Ray is that they made a good choice in aspiring to be a "poolside" band rather than a "beachside" band; a significant distinction. I am ready to admit that "Fly," with its nonsense rapping and dopey chorus, is the aural equivalent of a ingrown canker sore, but the poolside lull of later hit "Someday" shows commendable restraint when compared to similar ballads that aim for the beach.
Even though the video takes place on a sandy void, the song has no sonic or lyrical oceanic references. The worst I can say about "Someday" is that the lyrics are rhyme-by-numbers and the guitar is blandly lush, but its inoffensive aspirations prevent the sonic crimes of its beachside contemporaries. "Someday" is what bro-rappers 311 tried to do with their mellow ballad "Amber" through white boy groove appropriation and pooka-shell poetry, all of which grate on my frontal lobe like a synapse clotted with pus. Sugar Ray, however, shoots for the middle and obliterates the target. I can't exactly defend their Corona-and-pomade legacy, but I can hold them an inch above other flip-flopped, blonde-highlighted bands for their commendable aesthetic modesty.
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Truthfully, if brazen nostalgia is a crime, then I'm already a repeat offender. I've seen '90s alt-rock chart-toppers Third Eye Blind not once, but twice in the last six years. However, hearing Third Eye Blind more than fifteen years after the fact only resembled a kind of primordial nostalgia. I remembered all of the lyrics, and all of the people and places in my life that are chronologically entwined to those songs, but my memories were in no way attached to the actual sentiments or lifestyle implications of the music. Certainly for someone with a divorce experience similar to that of Everclear's Art Alexakis', his hit songs about paternal abandonment could resonate no matter how early he or she made the connection. But for me, Stephen Jenkins' tales of strung-out sex and suicidal talk-downs make me think of long bus rides to elementary school chess tournaments, slamming Pogs between the seats. I liked the music because it just happened to be there.
For anyone my age who (theoretically or literally) shaved their soul patch long ago, the Summerland Tour only has the potential to evoke nostalgia that is cognitively shallow. It will remind us of those very first emotional connections we made to music, ones that pale in comparison to those we make now with music that actually speaks to our aspirations and life experience. However, the stakes are exceedingly low. Attending the Summerland Tour will probably feel less like a reflective trip down memory lane and more like seeing an offensive blowout at Chase Field: a series of minor spectacles whose impact will only go as far as the night they happen.
I'm definitely willing hear "Sex and Candy" one more time. I pretty sure I won't feel guilty. Who knows, maybe I'll manage to be the ninety-ninth caller.