A writer much better than I – maybe Chuck Klosterman, but the memory is hazy – once said people form their most distinct musical tastes between their freshman year of high school and senior year of college. This almost certainly isn’t true across the board; it’s quite common for people to discover new music later in life as they continue to mature and evolve.
But it’s easy to see what this person was getting at; namely, that the music we sample during our most formative years can last a lifetime. This certainly explains why children of the '90s were so stung by the untimely deaths of icons like Chris Cornell and Layne Staley. It explains why many women of the late '70s still (tragically, but even so) dress like Stevie Nicks to this day. It even explains why dad rock has been replaced with dad rap; after all, many parents today grew up on the likes of Tupac Shakur, Jay-Z and Eminem.
Sometimes the tastes we form at a young age evolve. Sometimes they don't. But the point remains that music has a way of transporting us through time. It evokes memories good and bad. Hell, it’s a safe bet you probably know a person who can’t listen to a particular band or song because the memory of a lost love or something altogether different is simply too painful to bear. Music is an emotional instrument; sometimes it uses its powers for good, other times not.
And this brings us to Collective Soul, Our Lady Peace and Tonic, who have teamed up for a tour that hits Smart Financial Center in Sugar Land on Monday. The early '90s were dominated by grunge music as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and various others owned the airwaves with a sort of hard rock-punk mashup that really captured the American consciousness in the aftermath of '80s hair metal.
However, by the time Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain committed suicide in April 1994, the genre had already begun to fade. Grunge was on the decline. People would still rock their flannel shirts and holed-up jeans; they would simply do so while listening to a slightly more toned-down brand of rock. In the place of bands like Alice in Chains came bands like Collective Soul, Our Lady Peace, Tonic and numerous others.
I know this because I began my freshman year of high school in 1996, when bands such as these dominated rock and pop radio, saturated mall record stores (remember those?) and teen comedy soundtracks and generally helped define pop culture in the mid to late '90s.
In the case of Collective Soul, the band calls back memories to summer nights spent driving around with friends in high school (there wasn’t much else to do in a town of 3,000 people) as “Shine” or “December” played on local radio. Or it’s a track like “Run” playing over a scene in Varsity Blues, one of the most ridiculous and simultaneously awesome high-school movies of the '90s.
It’s hearing Our Lady Peace’s “Clumsy” for the first time and thinking it was one of the catchiest tunes I’d ever heard, all the while not understanding in the slightest what the song was about; some 20 years after its release, I think it’s about depression or drug abuse, but that’s just kind of a guess. It’s watching Tonic’s “You Wanted More” video and digging it for some reason; it’s hearing the song 20 years later and instantly thinking about the film, American Pie, which hasn’t held up at all but in the late '90s was the pre-eminent R-rated high-school comedy.
Were any of these bands particularly genre-shaping or transcendent? Not especially, but that’s almost a good thing. Damn near every child of the '90s has a favorite memory that involves Green Day or Nirvana; far fewer get stuck in a certain moment from the past when Dishwalla or Better Than Ezra cues up.
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The same holds true in all eras, even today. A lot of people in the 15-25 age range right now are going to look back one day and reflect upon their favorite track from megastars like Drake, the Weeknd and Beyoncé. Far fewer will do the same for the likes of Cold War Kids, Portugal. The Man or Spoon. The former artists will span generations; the latter may very well be representative – at least for some – of a very specific time and place.
For many in attendance on Monday night, a vast majority of whom will likely fall in the range of 35-45 (again, the Klosterman hypothesis), those memories may very well come full circle as the trio of Collective Soul, Our Lady Peace and Tonic take them back to a time when CD players were a thing and beepers were considered a status symbol.
Times change, tastes evolve, people move on. But it’s funny how a band, a song, even a specific chord or lyric has a way of taking us back all over again.
Collective Soul, Our Lady Peace and Tonic perform Monday, June 19, at Smart Financial Centre, 18111 Lexington Boulevard, Sugar Land. Doors open at 8 p.m.