We rarely review concerts, despite attending many, but we have decided to start after positive feedback on our review of the Counting Crows disaster at the Cape Cod Melody Tent last season. We had paid $70 a pop to see this band destroy their concert in a drunken flurry of forgotten lyrics and faulty delivery.
We were delighted to get an opportunity to see another classic band, the Gin Blossoms, perform on the stage in East Falmouth, MA. The cost was a modest $10 admission to the Barnstable County Fair. And unlike the lead singer Adam Duritz and the Counting Crows’ disappointing performance, the Gin Blossoms delivered a concert that was worth vastly more than the small amount charged.
Relevance is fleeting in the world of music. An absence from the scene or a single album that fails to make the charts can, for most, decimate all chances of ever having another successful music release.
Of course, we have all heard of the one hit wonders, those bands or individual artists that seem to possess the ability to hit the radio with one, and only one, hit song. Many later know the hit, but cannot remember the band from whence it came.
The Gin Blossoms from Tempe, Arizona are no one hit wonder. Their first album was monstrous and generated hit after hit for the band going platinum four times over. The album had an array of memorable and captivating songs like “Hey Jealousy”, “Found Out About You” and “Allison Road”. The mix and flow of the album promised these would be absolute superstars.
Behind the scenes, circumstances were not as bright. The co-founder and guitarist that had written the two biggest hits on the album had been forcefully terminated from the band by A&M Records. In 1993, shortly after the release of this phenomenal work, Doug Hopkins committed suicide.
As often happens when a great first album is released, the sophomore album determines the fate of the band. A moderate success is not enough. It is almost expected that the second album be as good as or better than the first. Fatefully and unfortunately, this was not the case for Gin Blossoms without Doug Hopkins. Their second album, “Congratulations, I’m Sorry” went platinum, but it was baron of hits except for “Follow You Down” and did not have the impact of the first. The smash hit song “Until I Hear It From You”, was released before the album for the “Empire Records” soundtrack. Had the song been on this album, it may have spelled the difference between a huge success and the mixed reviews it instead received at the time.
In 1997, one year after the release of “Congratulations, I’m Sorry”, the group disbanded, and it appeared, sadly, that what started as a powerhouse addition to the music scene was to be just a memory.
In 2001, after 4 years, the band reunited to tour the nation. We had a chance to see them perform in Barnstable. And we are here to tell you all, if you are a fan, you will be hooked and thrilled with their performance. If you are not, you will likely be a fan after you watch them perform. They still possess their captivating sound and grab your attention from the outset.
As the concert progressed, we watched around us as young and old alike danced and screamed with joy to song after song. The lead singer, Robin Wilson, immediately got the audience to move forward and stand, and the audience never returned to a sitting position. This is something so few bands possess, the ability to maintain an audience’s attention throughout a performance, over the gravity that draws their derrieres to their seats.
Yet, despite getting the audience excited and enthused, Robin remained totally personable. He exchanged tambourines with some audience members and commented on their musical prowess. When he requested an audience member throw him back the tambourine, however, another fan was beaned on the noggin. He gracefully ensured she was well and gifted her the tambourine adding his personal autograph. (Video 5, during “Learning the Hard Way” song.)
Videos from the concert. Complete set
The play list is below and was a fantastic mix of old and new. At first, the band somehow seemed lethargic on the first oldie song – “Follow You Down”. Scott Johnson, one of the two lead guitarists, skipped over the famous guitar lick we have come to love in the song and that is a signature of its greatness. Robin’s signature vocal was left to carry the song and made it seem like a solo performance. Great still, but not quite enough to get the audience pumped up just yet.
This changed dramatically as the concert progressed and the band captured the audience’s hearts. As the audience gained enthusiasm, so did the band, and the lead guitars began to belt out the riffs we have come to love. And the bassist, Bill Leen, added that background sound we all recognize. Bill’s stage presence is muted by Robin, but his intensity is obvious and makes a major impact on their performance. He playfully fiddled with Scott’s guitar right before the encore, leaving Scott to quickly get his Gibson retuned.
Jesse Valenzuela, also with the band from nearly the beginning, seemed rather subdued. He appeared happy to hide behind the lights and just play music. Jesse was the original lead singer of the band and has written many of their songs. including Mrs. Rita and their more recent single, “Learning The Hard Way”. Jesse appeared to be more enthusiastic when belting out recent tracks than the older classics.
The band’s signature sound was maintained throughout and is still as engaging as ever. In a later conversation with Scott, he was quick to agree that it is this signature sound that identifies any band and makes them successful. Sometimes it is just the voice of the lead singer. And with Gin Blossoms, there is no question that Robin has a unique and distinctively familiar voice. But this band has a sound well beyond Robin’s vocal ability, and that sound is not only their own; they only make it as a band of five. So we were ecstatic when, by the third song, the band was playing as a tight unit, and the concert really took hold over the audience.
By the end of the concert and the finale, the audience was screaming for more. The band obliged. For the encore, they first performed a classic Eddie Money song, “Think I’m In Love,” in which Robin proved he still has great range with his vocals. Then they finished with “Hey Jealousy” and left an audience dazed with satisfaction at having come to see this classic band live.
The band has had two major studio album releases since reuniting. There were released singles, like “Learning the Hard Way” and “Miss Disarray”, but neither has been hugely successful. The songs they performed from those albums, however, are strikingly Gin Blossoms in their sound and quality. Any one could be a top of the charts hit song and each had the audience bobbing with glee. But promotion appears to be what is lacking. And perhaps the band’s relevance is doubted by a fickle industry inundated with fleeting talent. Our only comments on the more recent singles is they do not capture Robin’s familiar vocal sound in the same fashion as the earlier hits and they seem to miss the clever lyrics like “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down”.
This concert is not one to miss. The opportunity to see this classic band perform with almost all the members of the band that participated in the “New Miserable Experience” is just too good to pass up. It is not an opportunity missed by the band’s earlier break up because their performance is still stellar. And the cost is modest in a world of unaffordable musical extravaganzas that tend to never live up to the hype.
Gin Blossoms performed as a tight unit and delivered a solid performance that will rekindle the love of their music by every fan, and that will likely make fans out of those that do not know how great they are. We want more.
Gin Blossoms Set list :: Falmouth, MA
“Follow You Down”
“Found Out About You”
“Until I Fall Away”
“Goin To California”
“Long Time Gone
“Don’t Change for Me”
“Wave Bye Bye”
“‘Til I Hear it From You”
“Learning The Hard Way”
“Think I’m in Love”