It's not uncommon for bands to tour beyond their prime. Eighties hair bands like Poison and Warrant routinely hit the road in summer, playing 2,000-person venues full of mullets and 30-somethings reliving their teen-age years. Classic rock icons like the Rolling Stones, the Who and KISS are still on the road -- in the latter's case, after seemingly endless farewell tours.
For me, at 23, those bands all peaked before my time. The hair bands offer freak-show humor, but no tangible nostalgia. The classic bands, while certainly more respect-worthy than their permed, style-over-substance followers, nonetheless play songs that were huge before I was born. So, it's tough to get too excited.
In theory, I'm young enough that the bands I grew up on are, for the most part, still relevant. At least relevant enough to be releasing albums, and relevant enough to avoid what my friends deem the "pay the mortgage" or "has-been" tours. The Counting Crows, a staple of my adolescence, released perhaps its finest album, "Hard Candy," earlier this month. Pearl Jam, despite trips into Neil Young territory, is still the most consistently good arena rock band around. Its new album, due later this year, is almost certain to go at least gold.
But as of this summer, my youth is officially starting to retreat. I blame the New World Disorder Tour, a collection of alterna-rock groups with hits in the mid-'90s that will venture Thursday, Aug. 1, into Hard Rock Live. The Gin Blossoms and the laryngitis-plagued Spin Doctors -- both of which reunited late last year -- co-headline, though neither has had a hit song in at least five years. Local boys Seven Mary Three and Detroit rockers Sponge round out the bill.
Except for 7M3, which has a home at Mammoth Records, all the acts are "between labels." And 7M3 is the only one of the bands to recently have a song on VH1, "Wait" from its 2001 "Economy of Sound" release.
That doesn't bother Gin Blossom Robin Wilson, a singer who thrived on songs about loneliness and boozing on 1993's multiplatinum "New Miserable Experience." "We are having more fun," he says in a phone interview from his Mesa, Arizona, home. In a few moments, he'll hop a flight to Iowa to resume the tour. "It's the first time we've toured like this. Before, we always toured behind a record with A&M [the band's former label] footing the bill." In the group's heyday, he says, touring was always about promoting a single or album. Now, "we're doing it because we wanted to get back together and play."
The reunion -- the band officially split in 1997 -- marks the latest chapter of the Blossoms' saga. Having formed in 1988 as a sort of coagulation of disbanded Tempe outfits, the band quickly earned a solid following. By 1989, in fact, "College Music Journal" named them the country's best unsigned band. After releasing their first indie record, "Dusted," which featured future hits "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You," the band was quickly snatched up by A&M Records. Following an EP and two years on the road, the Blossoms hit the studio to record its megahit "New Miserable Experience," and there it hit a tragic snag. "The story is so complicated and touchy," Wilson says. "It's too painful [to go into]."
He's referring to the firing and eventual suicide of Blossoms' founder Doug Hopkins, who was booted midrecording when his alcoholism hindered the sessions. Hopkins was also the band's chief songwriter, having penned about half of "Experience's" tracks, including breakout hit "Jealousy."
So even as singles like "Until I Fall Away" and "Allison Road" blew up on radio and MTV, doubts lingered as to whether the band's sophomore effort would measure up. "Congratulations, I'm Sorry," released in 1996, went platinum and garnered a Grammy nomination, but it didn't come close to reproducing "Experience's" stream of hits. One single, "Follow You Down," hit the top-10. While Wilson defends the record's accomplishments, there's no denying that it lacked the soul of their first record.
"["Experience"] was a classic," he says. "How do you compete with that? It's such a weird thing -- people love you and then for some reason they have it in for you."
Rather quickly, the band unraveled. In part, it was due to disappointing sales for "Congratulations." It was also Wilson's desire to pursue another project with Tempe friends. By the tour's end, the Gin Blossoms were history, and Wilson went on to form the Gas Giants. Like the Blossoms, the Giants were grabbed up by A&M but later shuffled out when that label was bought by Universal. A now-defunct Internet label released the Giants' record, but it failed to catch on nationally. Last summer, the band announced an indefinite hiatus.
Soon after, the Blossoms began jamming. It wasn't the first time since the breakup -- the band played a millennia festival in Phoenix -- but after five years time had smoothed over the personal conflicts and commercial disappointments. The Blossoms felt a sense of permanency. After a New Year's Eve gig in Tempe, the Blossoms played just a few warm-up shows before being eagerly recruited for the "Disorder" tour.
The band has "half a [new] record nearly written," Wilson says, but the Blossoms won't play them on this tour. Instead, they'll stick to their radio hits. The band hopes to release its third album next year, independently if necessary.
But will their audience still be there?
The bigger picture, both for the Blossoms and the 20-something demographic "Disorder" promoters are seeking, is whether there's a place for the Arizona pop rockers in today's music scene. One immediate answer will come in finding out how many of my peers plop down $24 to hear regurgitated radio staples or remember a time before the responsibilities of adulthood set in.
I, for one, will. And not just to sing along to the jaded chorus of "Found About You" or the desperation of "Mrs. Rita," but to remember an era of music that was pensive but not angry, simple but nonetheless stimulating. And despite my cynicism, I'll be there to hope that the Gin Blossoms and the music they represent perseveres beyond this tour.