in performance: gin blossoms

Gin Blossoms: Jesse Valenzuela, Robin Wilson, Bill Leen and Scotty Johnson.

Gin Blossoms: Jesse Valenzuela, Robin Wilson, Bill Leen, Scotty Johnson.

“Okay, now play the other one.”
Trust me on this, that’s not the kind of audience response any band wants. But that was a remark overheard last night at the Christ the King Oktoberfest as the Gin Blossoms wrapped up “Allison Road,” one of the jangly pop confections that defined the band’s commercial heyday nearly 25 years ago.
Now, there were two primary ways one could interpret that remark – three if you counted the abundance of Oktoberfest beer, which seemed to intensify the crowd chat level at this free performance. But alcohol among concert patrons seldom offers much by way of artistic insight into a show, so we’re really back to two.
The first explanation might have been that the Gin Blossoms had only a modest library of recognizable hits to begin with, which is partially true. Outside of music from the career defining 1992 album “New Miserable Experience” (which contained “Allison Road”), there was little in the performance that would have been recognizable to anyone but the most ardent of Gin Blossoms fans. The opening “Follow You Down,” which was pulled from 1996’s “Congratulations, I’m Sorry” came close, but the sound was so awful at the show’s start (horrible bass distortion, a buried vocal mix and volume that dropped dramatically once you walked more than 100 feet from the stage) that it’s a wonder anyone deciphered anything.
The comment’s other possible meaning could have been a reference to the fact the songs within the Gin Blossoms catalog tended to sound the same. Robin Wilson’s vocals were clear and exact (providing you were able to worm your way close enough to the stage to where the band didn’t sound like it was playing underwater) and the melodic hooks within the material were plentiful. As such, tunes from the Gin Blossoms’ most recent album, 2010’s “No Chocolate Cake,” didn’t sound at all removed from the “New Miserable Experience” fare. A few of the (comparatively) newer songs, like “Dead or Alive on the 405,” allowed guitarist Scotty Johnson to modestly toughen the sound.
The former reason was likely what the well-lubricated patron intended. But “the other one” actually turned out to be a triumvirate of ‘90s hits that took the show down the home stretch. “Found Out About You,” “Til I Hear It From You” (a 1995 soundtrack single) and the moderately less wistful “Hey Jealousy” defined the sort of mid tempo, highly melodic pop that served as the blueprints for the rest of the set – the rest, that is, save for workmanlike but unremarkable covers of “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Tupelo Honey” that bookended the hit parade. That’s when you knew the Gin Blossoms had fully played their hand.

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