Summerland Tour Courts the Nostalgia Market
Time marches on. And tours like Summerland — featuring '90s pop heroes Everclear, Sugar Ray, Lit, Gin Blossoms, and Marcy Playground — are there to remind us that it's doing so, to remind us that we're getting older, to capitalize on our fading adolescent memories.
I was born in 1987; thus, the Summerland Tour is a tempting array of bands that brought about my initial appreciation for music. These bands reached the height of popularity just as I became musically cognizant. Is it destructive to not only romanticize the past, but also spend money seeing a roster of "classic" bands when I could be seeing up-and-coming bands instead?
My relationship with the Summerland bands began when I was only 10 years old, thanks to Valley alt-rock stations like The Zone 101.5, which broadcast until its quasi-edgy contemporary format was deemed unprofitable. I'm not going to try and defend these bands critically (especially Lit). But in 2012, a year when Phoenix lacks a wide-reaching modern alternative station yet can still hear these bands on the FM dial, I can get behind most of Summerland's roster.
Like any Maricopa County resident who had a pulse in the '90s, I am intimately familiar with the radio hits of Gin Blossoms. Last year, during a punk show at notorious Tempe house-party venue YOBS, somebody played a cassette copy of the band's New Miserable Experience to the sincere delight of attendees, most of whom I hadn't pegged as jangle-pop enthusiasts. It was the kind of reaction I would have expected for Torch of the Mystics, not "Hey Jealousy."
Like Gin Blossoms, Marcy Playground recorded a string of respectable power-pop albums before breaking out with the lazy come-on "Sex and Candy." In the same way I think Archers of Loaf singer Eric Bachmann sounds kind of like Bush's Gavin Rossdale, "Sex and Candy" vaguely resembles Pavement (if Pavement had been from L.A. instead of Stockton and had never listened to a Fall record).
From a critical standpoint, Sugar Ray's a tough one to validate (frontman Mark McGrath's reality TV ventures further complicate matters), and the band made a key decision to be a "poolside" band rather than a "beachside" band. "Fly," with its nonsensical rapping and dopey chorus, is the aural equivalent of a canker sore, but the poolside lull of later hit "Someday" shows commendable restraint when compared to similar ballads that aim for the beach. Bands like 311 aimed for beach-blanket transcendence, but Sugar Ray shot for the middle, obliterating the target. I can't exactly defend their Corona-and-pomade legacy, but I'll hold them an inch above other flip-flops-and-blond-highlights bands for their commendable aesthetic modesty.
If brazen nostalgia is a crime, then I'm a repeat offender. I've seen '90s alt-rock chart-toppers Third Eye Blind not once, but twice in the past six years. Hearing Third Eye Blind more than 15 years after their heyday, I remembered all the lyrics and thought of all the people and places in my life at the time. My memories were in no way attached to the actual sentiments or lifestyle implications of the music. Like the hit songs of Everclear's Art Alexakis, whose abandonment by his father colors and shades his pop music, Third Eye Blind's 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, even at the time, because it just happened to be there.
Attending the Summerland Tour probably will feel less like a reflective trip down memory lane than a Diamondbacks offensive outburst at Chase Field: a series of minor spectacles whose impact will be felt only on the night they happen. I'm definitely willing to hear "Sex and Candy" one more time. And I'm pretty sure I won't feel guilty about the nostalgia.
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