Forrestel flannel in closets. Labatt Ice in foam coolers. Fleets of salt-coated Chevy Cavaliers broadcasting alt rock chords atop Lake Erie breezes. Yes, Buffalo was a glorious place in the 1990s. It’s a shame we can’t go back, if only for a few happy hours.
Or can we?
Enter the Gin Blossoms, whose engaging brand of beers-on-the-porch power pop transported legions of ’90s loyalists back to nights of scrunchie-strewn splendor over a rousing 16-song set Friday night inside the Seneca Niagara Casino Bear’s Den. Though the Tempe, Ariz., outfit has toured regularly over the last decade, they’ve returned to a wider audience via the burgeoning nostalgia circuit. Over the past year, they’ve toured with such Clinton presidency-era stalwarts as Everclear; shared the stage with “Sex and Candy” crooners Marcy Playground; and sailed the Florida coast with a floating version of 1996, complete with Sugar Ray, Spin Doctors and Cracker. (That’s right: “Fly,” “Two Princes” and “Low” – all on the same cruise.)
But, since the release of their 1992 breakout album “New Miserable Experience,” the Gin Blossoms haven’t needed inclusion on an all-star voyage of frosted tips and beaded necklaces to draw an audience. Their southwestern-styled tracks and chart-topping sing-a-longs have always connected with listeners, whether this year or 20 years ago. Robin Wilson’s vocals have endured on FM and Internet radio; Scott Johnson’s guitar solos have remained relevant through supermarket speakers. Even with a four-year hiatus from 1997 to 2001 and nary a hit single since 1996’s “Follow You Down,” the band’s accessible music – rife with lyrics about break-ups, friendships and hardships – refuses to go away.
A glance across Friday night’s cooperative Niagara Falls crowd and one could see it’s not going to go away any time soon, either.
After opening the show with “Congratulations I’m Sorry” track “Virginia,” the band skillfully dipped into the booze-addled lyrics of “New Miserable Experience” opener “Lost Horizons.” Wilson used the crowd’s song recognition to set the tone for what would be a collaborative evening, tossing tambourines to a half dozen attendees in exchange for their continued participation. As he accompanied their help through tracks off 2010’s “No Chocolate Cake” like “Miss Disarray” and “Somewhere Tonight,” he joined guitarists Johnson and Jesse Valenzuela in stirring the non-tambourined fans to their feet for an eventual avalanche of sentimental standards.
First came the Johnson-Valenzuela Fender duel on 1992’s “Found Out About You,” which served as the first step in transforming the reserved Bear’s Den into a rousing re-creation of Mohawk Place. The next step was “Alison Road,” which induced raised cocktails and crowd singing to complement both Wilson’s familiar vocals and percussionist Scott Hessel’s methodical beat. By the time the band rolled out Rex Manning Day favorite “Til I Hear It From You” and barroom anthem “Hey Jealousy,” Wilson and Co. had convinced most of the crowd to flee their seats, surround the stage and shout lyrics memorized from mix-tapes.
And, throughout their Friday performance, the band’s stage presence and precision made these memories easy to induce. The Gin Blossoms are not a shell of the band once regularly billed on Letterman and “Saturday Night Live.”
They’re an experienced version, still capable of churning out classics once cherished by flannel-clad teens and college students. The ’90s may be over but, thankfully, one of its most popular bands is still able to replicate some of the decade’s guitar-hued glory.