Concert Review: Gin Blossoms Find 25 Miserable Years Works Quite Well

Gin Blossoms at Craterian Theater
Gin Blossoms on stage at Craterian Theater in Medford, Oregon

Gin Blossoms brought their 25 Miserable Years tour and executed a classic, present-day performance in a 20 song, hour 40 minute set on Thursday to a well-attended and wonderful Craterian Theater in Medford, OR.

It’s just the start of the band’s 25th Anniversary Tour for their 1992 smash platinum album New Miserable Experience with the opening date on Wednesday in Redding, CA followed by a string of stops throughout the United States stretching into 2018.

Excuse the gushing – It was the best Gin Blossoms performance I’ve ever heard.

No opening act as the Tempe-based quintet wasted little time, stepping on stage just a few minutes after scheduled show time and opened with “Lost Horizons” the first cut off the record. They played the entirety of the album (great idea by the way! – scroll down) front to back – finishing 55 minutes later.

Imagine, instead of popping in the CD (or that delightfully sonic new vinyl release from March), you simply had the Gin Blossoms playing in your backyard, or your bedroom or in the backseat of the car or wherever you choose to listen. That’s what it sounded like. That’s how good it was.

They were tight, on point and clearly well-rehearsed. Singer Robin Wilson dropped those first vocals and the 90s roared to life. “Hey Jealousy” followed, of course, and already it was evident something special was brewing.

They didn’t mess with the integrity of any of the songs  – playing them just as they sounded so many years ago, save for an extended solo or two from either guitarist Jesse Valenzuela or Scott Johnson who traded back and forth on lead and rhythm. The always engaging Wilson, who passes out tambourines to willing audience members, paused just a few times between songs to discuss the making of New Miserable Experience.

Robin Wilson sings for Gin Blossoms
Singer Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms

Prior to “Pieces of the Night” Wilson said they believed after finishing the record their label was going to drop them. Before playing “Hold Me Down” Wilson said that song was special to him and his relationship with the late Doug Hopkins, a founding member who was released from the band following alcohol related problems. Oh, he also wanted to name the album Jackalope.

New Miserable Experience is by far an iconic album of the 1990s with songs that remain a staple of alternative rock stations today and belongs in any Top 10 list of that decade. Thankfully the band figured out whatever they needed to as they dissolved shortly after the too often-ignored follow-up Congratulations I’m Sorry in 1996 but reunited a few years later, took to the road and released two albums since then.

Hopkins was not forgotten either as Wilson said though touring the album in its entirety was not their idea the whole New Miserable Experience record was wrapped up in Hopkins, someone Wilson thinks about daily.

Indeed, Hopkins deservedly receives credit for much of the album’s subtlety, but Wilson and Valenzuela discovered palatable misery indeed loves company as the two co-wrote the dysphoric “Until I Fall Away” while Wilson penned the awesome “Allison Road.” Speaking of, Valenzuela took vocal duties while Wilson picked up the acoustic (and not the only time, either) on the country-infused “Cheatin’” the album’s closer which the band never played before live until the Redding date on Wednesday.

Guitarist Scott Johnson of Gin Blossoms
Scott Johnson on guitar for Gin Blossoms

And, no! They didn’t give just an album concert and call it a night. After wrapping the 25th anniversary celebration and taking a five minute or so break, Gin Blossoms moved on to other popular hits, new music and a couple covers. The vastly underappreciated Major Lodge Victory released in 2006 helped open the second set with “Long Time Gone” and “Come On Hard” before the first cover  “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better”  by The Byrds, a band Wilson proudly said the band borrowed from heavily.

They also previewed two songs from their forthcoming album Mixed Reality which is finished and a release date in three months.  The band worked on Mixed Reality, their sixth studio album, with producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter of R.E.M. fame.  In an interview earlier this year, Wilson said it’s Gin Blossoms’ best stuff since New Miserable Experience and based on the two tracts played it’s not too far a stretch.

The first “Here Again”  sounded like a marriage of NME and Major Lodge Victory. The follower, “Mega Pawn King” boasted a great melody infused with a slice of 60s (Wilson did say they borrowed from The Byrds), a solid Johnson solo and a great extended jam. They shunned the encore and instead pushed ahead with the popular “Follow You Down” and finally closing with Tom Petty’s “Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll” absolutely killing it. Mr. Petty would be proud.

All told it was a masterful performance, no less, and showed the guys – the traditional line-up since the loss of Hopkins  – not only have much left in the tank but a seemingly constant touring schedule has not burned the band out from playing or from each other. Wilson sings so effortlessly, his vocals polished and smooth. Bassist Bill Leen kept it up front and center delivering his lines like an old-school rocker while Scott Hessel, the band’s drummer since 2012 continues to prove he’s a solid choice for the band moving forward.

Gin Blossoms move on to Idaho today, Seattle on Saturday and on Sunday, the Aladdin Theater in Portland, OR – the city that developed my relationship with Gin Blossoms – and where I can leave my notepad at home, sit back and enjoy again the entirety of this marvelous album that makes up so much of my younger years and brings the 1990s back to life.

Gin Blossoms Setlist at Craterian Theater in Medford, OR

  1. Lost Horizons
  2. Hey Jealousy
  3. Rita
  4. Until I Fall Away
  5. Hold Me Down
  6. Cajun Song
  7. Hands Are Tied
  8. Found Out About You
  9. Allison Road
  10. 29
  11. Pieces Of The Night
  12. Cheatin’
  13. Long Time Gone
  14. Come On Hard
  15. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better
  16. Here Again (new)
  17. Mega Pawn King (new)
  18. Till I Hear It From You
  19. Follow You Down
  20. Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

Gin Blossoms Setlist at Aladdin Theater in Portland, OR

  1. Lost Horizons
  2. Hey Jealousy
  3. Rita
  4. Until I Fall Away
  5. Hold Me Down
  6. Cajun Song
  7. Hands Are Tied
  8. Found Out About You
  9. Allison Road
  10. 29
  11. Pieces Of The Night
  12. Cheatin’
  13. Long Time Gone
  14. Come On Hard
  15. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better
  16. “Don’t Let it Break My Heart” (new)
  17. Here Again (new)
  18. Till I Hear It From You
  19. Follow You Down
  20. Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

Written By: AndrewT

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