"Last Summer on Earth" Tour Feat. Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Cracker Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion July 20, 2012
As Nathan Smith said a few hours ago, his partial '90s nostalgia show at House of Blues Friday was more than a sight harder than the throwback bill I was on board for in The Woodlands. Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd & The Monsters and Cracker made for an even-uneven roster.
Of course, nothing this year will hold a candle to the Everclear/Gin Blossoms/Lit/Marcy Playground/Sugar Ray bill that was roaming the land this summer and skipped Houston for greener pastures to the west.
If you are like me, you spent the past decade making fun of things like 93.7 The Arrow's ArrowFest, with bills featuring the likes of Journey, Kansas, Little River Band and Loverboy. And you will also know the odd feeling when you realize that alternative-radio bands that you knew growing up (or from MTV's Buzz Bin) are now in the exact same spot as Journey and the rest.
It makes sense then that our bands from the '90s are now out on the road looking for tour blood, because the twentysomethings who lapped up that stuff now have disposable income and kids in junior high that can stay home alone, without parental guidance.
The funny thing about such a milquetoast bill as the one I saw on Friday night is that none of these bands were ever considered dangerous or innovative, save for maybe Cracker, who benefit from being led by David Lowery post-Camper Van Beethoven.
Their opening set was a little more than 20 minutes long and heavy on the enduring flashbacks, able openers who don't need to be playing a shed like this when they could be packing in a smaller club.
Where were the Spin Doctors? I'm not even being flippant either.
Big Head Todd & the Monsters have built on the minor success of 1993's Sister Sweetly the past two decades with regular touring, and along the way somehow became a decent blues-rock band.
Singer and guitarist Todd Park Mohr's "Bittersweet" and "Circle" are muscular now, which is saying something when you consider how listless they used to be. With each single you wanted to shake the shit out of them to wake them up, but it took the bar-band grind to do that.
Thankfully, now they are little gruffer, older, and wiser, and the key thing: Louder.
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I still think that Blues Traveler's live album Live From The Fall is one of the best concert discs of the past 20 years. The band was way more than "Hook" or "Run-Around" and, interestingly enough, fell victim to the record industry they were making fun of in "Hook," though thankfully they have had a way longer shelf life than most of their contemporaries. Lead singer and harmonica man John Popper's trickle of solo albums were distracted.
That all being said, their set on Friday night was short on excitement, though I could listen to Popper play harmonica alone for hours. Opening with a cover of Sublime's "What I Got" was cute -- I guess -- but could have been a set closer.
I get it, you are a blues band and it's supposed to be wacky you are covering a stoner anthem. These are the same guys would wrench out a ten-minute version of "Imagine" at the drop of a hat in the '90s while playing the H.O.R.D.E. Festival.
Or maybe I am just mad that they didn't play "100 Years" or "But Anyway." That's probably it. I'm not going to sit here and try to tell you how good their 1990 debut is because no one else cares except me and maybe the thousand or so people with BT "cat" tattoos.
The Barenaked Ladies have always been long on smirk and family-friendly Canadian candor. The shadow of 1998's "One Week" buries the pop treasures on 1992's sleeper hit Gordon, which is a shame. There was always a lot more going in the BNL universe than "chickity China the Chinese chicken" that's for sure.
Their tennis costumes, with matching white shorts, polos, and headbands set easy breezy tone for the night. "Hardcore rock and roll energy with the comfort of tennis," as they put it.
Without exiled member Steven Page, the band is now a four-piece, forcing Ed Robertson to handle all the vocals. He's not as dour as Page was on record obviously. No one will ever accuse them of being challenging or aggressive, which explains all the young families on the lawn of the venue. But some of their lyrics -- "It's All Been Done" for one -- are hiding bitter relationship vignettes that you have to actually listen for.
Today's groups like Foster The People, fun., and Vampire Weekend will be here in this exact place in 15 years, but I probably won't be. What's indie and SPIN-worthy today will be pap by the time today's newborns get their learner's permits.
Now a Matchbox Twenty, Hootie & the Blowfish and Duncan Sheik show I could get behind.
Personal Bias: Does anyone remember 102.9 FM The Planet here in Houston?
The Crowd: Incredibly clean, nice, and well-mannered, except for the father/son duo having a row in section 103 during BNL's "Too Little Too Late." Seriously who fights during a BNL show? Up until that point this was the least aggro concert I had been to since Joe Jonas last September at the House Of Blues, which I use as a barometer for pussification. Also, there was a guy in a green polo that looked like Allen Ginsburg having a fit like he was at a One Direction show for the entire of the Barenaked Ladies set. It was inspiring.
Overheard in the Crowd: "I thought it was the other fat guy in BNL that was kicked out for cocaine," said a friend, pondering the case of former BNL frontman Steven Page who left the fold in 2009 and is now a solo artist.
Random Notebook Dump: The one-two blues-rock punch of Big Head Todd and Blues Traveler would have made a great House Of Blues bill.
CRACKER SET LIST
Eurotrash Girl Get Off This Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now) Low Gimme One More Chance
BIG HEAD TODD & THE MONSTERS SET LIST
Broken Hearted Savior Come On In My Kitchen (Robert Johnson cover) Muhammad Ali Bittersweet Cashbox Rocksteady Circle Black Betty (Ram Jam cover)
BARENAKED LADIES SET LIST
Get in Line The Old Apartment It's All Been Done Boomerang Maybe Not On the Lookout Blame It On Me (Acoustic) Brian Wilson Too Little Too Late Pinch Me Big Bang Theory Theme One Week If I Had $1,000,000 (with John Popper) Barenaked Rap
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