The Showroom at Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, NY is my favorite place on earth to enjoy a concert. Pardon the cliche, but there is not a bad seat in the (800 seat) house.
It seemed like ages since I’d been there. Had it been January? February? I only recalled that there’d been snow and ice on the ground, and that the headliner had been Bret Michaels. I was happy to be back on July 30th. In the spotlight this time around? Tempe, Arizona’s very own Gin Blossoms.
I used to love these guys back when I was living in Hampton Bays. Back then, I was working at an oldies station in Sag Harbor, while listening in my downtime to an “alternative rock” (when there was such a genre) station called WDRE. The music of the Gin Blossoms lived on those airwaves, alongside tunes by Nirvana, Soul Asylum, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Green Day, the Cranberries and Weezer. I had both their CDs, “New Miserable Experience” and “Congratulations, I’m Sorry.” I was a huge fan of their signature song, “Hey Jealousy,” which boasted lyrics that spoke to my own (lack of) self-esteem: “You can trust me not to think, and not to sleep around, and if you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.” In the heydey of Grunge, mixed with awful pop crap like Ace of Base, Spice Girls and All 4 One, the Gin Blossoms were a refreshing difference, a melodic throwback to the best of 1960s pop bands. “Allison Road,” “Found Out About You”… I think what I loved about them most, was they had these really sad lyrics that contrasted with the upbeat, incredibly catchy melodies.
I hadn’t thought about the group in years, I hate to admit. But when I got a gig doing afternoons at Z93, I was hearing those old favorites again. I Googled: “Are the Gin Blossoms still together?” Lo and behold, I found out that not only was the band still in tact, they were going to be at Turning Stone soon!
My concert buddy and I arrived just as the showroom doors were opening. We were seated fairly close to the stage (I always luck out in that respect). I was disappointed to see that the venue was only about half full. We shared our table with what appeared to be a father and son, both equally burly and bushy-haired. Over to our right, were a couple of obvious die-hard GB fans, wearing faded vintage concert tees from the band’s 1994 “Your Party Sucks” tour.
The show started at promptly 8PM, to the harmonica-infused strains of “Follow You Down.” The crowd was into it, but they had to be repeatedly revived throughout the concert by spirited frontman Robin Wilson, who did everything he could to get their pulses racing. He handed out tambourines, he waved his arms in the air, he pranced and strutted on tables. Robin looked great, sporting a snazzy, silver-grey fedora, a white polo shirt, dark indigo jeans and sneakers. His toned arms were covered in tats. The look, which included shorter hair under the hat, was a vast improvement over the sorta slacker-ish, non-look he had back in the band’s heyday.
The rest of the band is comprised of Scott Johnson, Jesse Valenzuela, Scott Hessel and Bill Leen. Johnson and Valenzuela are veterans of the band. The Gin Blossoms, it turns out, broke up after their two big albums, quite prematurely. The members formed other groups, but eventually gravitated back together in 2002.
The GB’s set consisted not only of widely-recognized tunes like “Found Out About You,” and “Allison Road,” but newer tunes like “Miss Disarray,” “Don’t Change For Me,” and “Wave Bye Bye,” which were very appealing ear candy. I was hoping to procure some of the new music on a CD at their merch table after the show, but all they were selling were solo discs by guitarists Scott Johnson and Jesse Valenzuela. And some really ugly t-shirts. Damn.
The show lasted about an hour and twenty minutes, including their two-song encore. The band sounded tight, not too loud, not too soft, fun, spirited, and well-seasoned, but not jaded. Robin gave a shout-out to his nephew, Daniel, who was in the audience, apparently celebrating his twenty-first birthday, because he said something about “Uncle Robin’s gonna buy you your first legal drink in about ten minutes.” Sweet.
BTW, the three newer songs I mentioned all appeared on the Gin Blossoms’ 2010 release, “No Chocolate Cake.” It’s available on Amazon. I’m gonna order me a copy.