Saturday, June 1, 2013

Summerland signals good time for `90s nostalgia

Music from the 1990s is ever present as I guess every generation’s music is 15 years or more after it happened. WEND 106.5 The End never let go of the decade in the first place, but with package tours like the Summerland Tour hitting Uptown Amphitheatre, the decade of grunge, nu-metal, rap rock, and Britney Spears is back. I wouldn’t say it’s bigger than ever, but instead of eyeing it suspiciously in our rearview mirrors music fans are meeting it with warm nostalgia.

Everclear’s Summerland Tour, which hits town Sunday, and Barenaked Ladies’ more pop-oriented Last Summer on Earth Tour both return to Uptown Amphitheatre this summer. Everclear (pictured above) recruited Live, Filter, and Sponge to round out tomorrow’s lineup. Barenaked Ladies’ bill, which hits Charlotte July 25, includes Ben Fold Fives and Guster.

NC Music Factory’s Friday Live! series has long stirred `90s nostalgia with bands like Soul Asylum, Tonic, Fuel,
and Spin Doctors filling complex’s after work concert series’ calendar. Cowboy Mouth and Cracker close out the series June 21 and 28, respectively.

I’ve been experiencing my own `90s nostalgia, but it has little to do with new rock radio and more to do with bands I discovered while working at The Record Exchange in the mid to late `90s. Some of those acts have recently released new albums following 2012 entries from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Dinosaur Jr., Soundgarden, Soul Asylum, No Doubt, and Hot Water Music.

Violinist/singer-songwriter Lisa Germano (pictured above), who started out as John Mellencamp’s fiddler, was a constant in my college years. She captured beauty, humor, and depression with intimate, confessional, but quirky piano and string-laden tunes. I lost track of her after 2003’s “Lullaby for Liquid Pig,” but I’ve been getting reacquainted with her through her 2013 release “No Elephants.” It’s as strange as when I left her. It’s not quite as accessible as the albums she recorded for the 4AD label in the `90s  (there were some downright pop moments on “Happiness,” “Excerpts from a Love Circus,” and “Slide”), but her dreamy vocals and almost stream-of-consciousness style of writing are still there. Lullaby is an apt description, but hers are sonic experiments of ethereal dysfunction. They’re never too dark though and there’s a lot of hope on this one.

England’s 4AD label also released The Breeders’ “Last Splash” for its 20th anniversary, which is celebrated in a recent “LSXX” box set - another slice of `90s nostalgia.

 When I wasn’t listening to pretty 4AD records in the `90s I was listening to what I think of as snooty indie-rock with my co-workers and fast-paced punk rock (which those same co-workers poo-pooed). Clutch was one that I originally considered a “boyfriend band.” I got rid of the boyfriend, but kept the band. Clutch never took a break, but its new album “Earth Rocker” is my favorite thing the bluesy/metallic hard rock group has made since the `90s. It’s mostly fast, heavy, driving, and groove-oriented - a very consistent album.

Boyfriends introduced me to countless punk bands that grew to be favorites (Rancid, Naked Aggression, NOFX, Avail…), but one I found on my own was Face To Face who plays Amos’ Wednesday. I bought all the group’s albums until its 2004 breakup. My husband surprised me with tickets to see them in Asheville after the birth of our second son two years ago. I was wishy washy about making the drive with a girlfriend of mine. Were our pop-punk show days behind us? We went anyway and that show was a fabulous reminder of everything I loved about Face To Face and breakneck poppy punk shows to start with. What’s interesting about its new album “Three Chords and a Half Truth” is that it mines new territory 20-plus years into its existence. You can hear more Clash and Social Distortion in its sound than before. It’s not simply rehashing tried and true tricks.

Those releases just touch the surface. I feel like it’s a good time for music from bands new and old. If its bands that had a presence in the `90s that you’re looking for, several of those are reappearing. Stephen Merritt’s Future Bible Heroes have a new one. Hardcore band BoySetsFire releases its first album since 2006 next week. The Goo Goo Dolls, Jimmy Eat World, SIgur Ros, Donna the Buffalo, and System of a Down’s Serj Tankian (doing a symphonic record) have new records out in June. If you loved a band in the `90s, Google them - they’re probably releasing something soon.  

(Photo by James Dean from