Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Low-Stress Evening with the Gin Blossoms

By Evan Rytlewski
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This blog is going to be dark for the next week while we focus our efforts on covering Summerfest for ExpressMilwaukee’s Summerfest section. That’s where you’ll find concert reviews, photos and the like, but while I’m posting here, I may as well indulge in a quick, first-person rant:

Big as it is may be, Summerfest’s line-up is dominated by classic-rock bands and nostalgia acts, so I try to make a point to see the handful of current chart-toppers that do play the side stages each year. Last night’s line-up was unusually strong in that respect, featuring sets from young Top 40 staples Paramore and Sean Kingston.

Kingston’s set, from the short, unimpressive bit I saw of it, was subdued and cluttered, but Paramore’s show at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage was an absolute madhouse. The crowd stood shoulder to shoulder (or, shoulder to elbow, given the relative height of Paramore’s young fans, many of them teenage or tween girls, some with braces and stuffed-animal backpacks.) “I can’t see, I can’t see,” one girl shrieked in near panic. As a late arrival, I didn’t expect to get a prime vantage point, but not only could I not see, I couldn’t hear. The crowd was so expansive that the only standing room was mostly out of earshot of the stage.

Defeated, I hobbled over to the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse to see the Gin Blossoms and found, to my surprise, that I felt welcome there. The median age of the crowd was easily 15 years older than Paramore’s, and there was ample standing room and the tenor was low-key and friendly. No shirtless dudes pushing each other, no teenagers throwing beer cups into the crowd, just a docile bunch of middle aged people taking in a polite show.

It probably speaks volumes about my ongoing quarter-life crisis that I felt far more comfortable seeing a washed-up alternative band from my youth than a relevant alternative band, but for their part, the Gin Blossoms were pretty phenomenal. “We’re the Gin Blossoms, and we came here to kick ass and chew bubblegum,” singer Robin Wilson chirped after their opening song, “and we’re all out of bubblegum.” Except, of course, they weren’t out of bubblegum. Their sweet, chiming guitar-pop is fueled by bubblegum.

The rest of the band looked their age, but Wilson was clean-cut, trim and stylish—from a distance, he could have been mistaken for Coldplay’s Chris Martin—and his lilting voice was as well preserved as his countenance.  

Maybe I enjoyed the respite from the chaos of surrounding stages, of maybe I was swept up in nostalgia for all the Gin Blossom singles I had forgotten about—which is to say, pretty much every Gin Blossoms single except for “Hey Jealousy”—but I was surprised how much I genuinely enjoyed the show.


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