In June of this year, Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms quietly decided it was time to close the doors of Uranus Recording of Tempe, the small studio he’s operated for more than 20 years.
In late 1994, the Gin Blossoms moved into the quiet, historical spot along Eighth Street in Tempe – originally the office of the Pacific Creamery Company, a 1915 add-on to the building originally built in 1892 – utilizing the cozy studio as a practice space. As the decades wore on, Uranus evolved into a true studio, outfitted with Wilson's affinity for mid-century decor and hosting Sonoran musical legends like Stevie Nicks, Lee Hazlewood, Wrecking Crew guitarist Al Casey, Roger Clyne, Dead Hot Workshop, and dozens more. The last few years have found the studio hosting live radio sessions broadcast on Trending Radio 103.9 FM, hosting fun., Phoenix, Foster the People, the Barenaked Ladies and more.
All the while, Four Peaks Brewery, the brewing operation which moved in just not long after Wilson and bandmates, grew at a staggering pace. Now a thriving, nationally renowned brewery and consistently packed pub, Wilson opted to move on and concede the space to Four Peaks management, which plans to utilize the space as a gift shop and lobby.
But Wilson didn’t feel like leaving without a party. On a balmy Thursday night, Wilson threw open the doors, inviting old friends, Four Peaks employees, staff from Harlow’s Cafe, and Tempe rock lifers like Sara Cina, Paul “PC” Cardone, and Lawrence Zubia of the Pistoleros. Throughout the night, Wilson invited his colleagues to the microphone to play stripped down sets.
The vibe was low key and celebratory, summed up by Patrick Sedillo of the Piersons: “Welcome to Long Wong’s on Mill,” the songwriter joked. Many in the room must have been experiencing beer-soaked flashbacks.
Though Robin Wilson hasn’t lived in Tempe for a few years now — he’s in New York these days — the hometown pride was pronounced. Friends sipped cans from Four Peaks while Wilson opened up with a set of covers, singing Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know,” and classic soul songs like “Teenager in Love,” “Tracks of My Tears,” and Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love.”
Armed with just an acoustic guitar and his elastic falsetto, Wilson sounded at home playing the oldies, but really seemed to dig into his cover of the Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way” and David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) classic “Ashes to Ashes,” both of which inspired sing-alongs, as did the singer’s take on “C Is For Cookie,” which included some alternate lyrics that probably wouldn’t fly on Sesame Street. “It's a privilege and thrill to sing and play in my studio for the last time,” Wilson said.
Honeygirl, comprising Kira Brown and Gin Blossoms guitarist Scott Johnson followed, offering a few smokey Americana and country inflected numbers which showed off Brown’s voice and Johnson’s tremolo-laden Telecaster. Wilson popped back on stage to play “Quitter,” his best-known single with Gas Giants, formed after the Gin Blossoms initial break up in the late ‘90s.
With Johnson on electric guitar and Zubia on impromptu tambourine, Wilson’s lyrics were the focus, a funny, sly, and aware twist on slacker tropes. “I can’t help it/I’m a quitter/From inside I’m cold and bitter…Stephen Hawking can’t know either/We’re not floating in the ether.”
Following energetic performances by Sedillo and Cardone, Wilson invited up his friends Danny Wilde and Phil Solem, the Rembrandts, with whom he’ll share the stage Friday night at Fort McDowell Casino. The Los Angles duo performed their chiming, melodic songs “Just The Way It Is, Baby” and “Burning Timber.” “Robin told us the studio was closing, so we came to buy some gear,” Solem joked.
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The group closed with their hit “I’ll Be There For You,” the theme from Friends, and the small crowd eagerly provided the song's defining handclap accents.
Wilson then assembled the Gin Blossoms — Johnson, bassist Bill Leen, guitarist Jesse Valenzuela, and drummer Scott Hessel — to perform some of the band’s biggest hits. The band opened with “Hey Jealously,” written by late guitarist Doug Hopkins, and then segued into “Til I Hear It From You.”
“We wrote and demoed this song in this room,” Wilson said. “And it went to number one … in the fucking Philippines.” The band closed with another hit from Congratulations I’m Sorry, the emotional “Follow You Down.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing what Four Peaks does with this place. It’ll turn a profit for the first time in 30 years,” Wilson chuckled. The partygoers sang along to the song, and as the band finished, a cake was brought out and the crowd serenaded Wilson in advance of his 50th birthday next week. Scrawled in frosting, it read: “Uranus is always there … just look up.”