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Review: Summerland Tour revives the '90s with Everclear, Live, Filter and Sponge at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

It’s been said that the ’90s were the last great time to be in a rock band. Before Napster, iTunes and Spotify, modern rock albums regularly topped the charts and sold millions of copies, even those that had only one or two good songs. All it took was one smash radio single and you were in big, big business.

It’s kind of surprising, then, how few rock bands from that era made it to 2013 intact. Think about it — how many big '90s groups have kept their classic lineup together without breaking up or going on hiatus? Radiohead ... Pearl Jam ... Goo Goo Dolls ... it’'s a much shorter list than you'd think.

So Art Alexakis might be onto something with his Summerland Tour. His band, Everclear, certainly enjoyed its moment in the mid-’90s spotlight, as did tour cohorts Live, Filter and Sponge (all bands that obviously formed before the advent of search engine optimization).

Should it matter that none of those bands have the same lineup they did 15 years ago? Should it matter that Everclear, Filter and Sponge are, in fact, down only to their original lead singers, and Live doesn’t even have that?

It clearly didn’t matter to the 1,483 fans who came to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Thursday. They were there to relive some of the ’90s’ biggest rock hits, and by and large, that’s what they got — four hours and more than two dozen memorable alt-rock songs packed into a tight and breezy three hours.

Everclear toplined the bill, and Alexakis was front and center, with his four newest bandmates posted at each corner of the stage. Recreating Everclear’s hit singles proved to be no huge challenge, with Alexakis’ crusty, angsty voice adding a touch of skate-park rebellion to Father of Mine and the off-kilter love song Heroin Girl, from 1995’s Sparkle and Fade.

It was a set of raucous recklessness with a couple of surprising highlights, such as an extended, crunching version of Sparkle and Fade rarity The Twistinside, a song “we haven’t played in a long f---ing time,” Alexakis said; and Local God, from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack (how’s THAT for a '90s reference?).

Everclear slipped in a new song, the slacker-poppy Be Careful What You Ask For, and it didn’t kill the nostalgic vibe of all the thirtysomething brahs and chicas in the house — by the time they closed with Santa Monica, with Alexakis slapping fives with fans in the front row, the audience still wanted more.

Alexakis may have been the biggest rock star on the Summerland Tour, but the bigger band — at least back in the day — was clearly the spiritual York, Pa. quartet Live. However, after parting ways with singer Ed Kowalczyk amid an array of legal squabbles, they were also Summerland’s biggest question mark.

But whatever ill will lingers with Kowalczyk doesn’t appear to be affecting the 2013 version of Live. New singer Chris Shinn is a worthy replacement for Kowalczyk, a talented, engaging and handsome enough fellow, in a Chris Daughtry/David Cook sort of way (we swear we don’t mean that as an insult). In the live mix of louder songs like I Alone and All Over You, his vocals blend right in, and he’s smart enough to know when to get out of the way. He yielded the floor to his bandmates when appropriate — see guitarist Chad Taylor’s spotlighted solos in The Dolphin’s Cry and electric closer White, Discussion — and let the crowd handle much of the band’s signature hit, Lightning Crashes.

You might remember Lightning Crashes only as that one song with the word “placenta” in the lyrics, but it’s easy to forget just what a unique and indelible hit it was. From the stark and soulful opening chords to the crescendoing campfire sing-along chorus, it seemed to be the one song everyone was waiting to hear all night. Normally it’s a bad sign when a singer turns the mic over to the crowd, but in this case, it was the right call — this was a song that everyone wanted to sing live, and there was no way Shinn could match Kowalczyk’s original quivering vocal, so why not?

By the end of Live’s set, it was clear that they’d easily be headlining theaters (at minimum) in their own right in 2013, if they’d only managed to stay on good terms with Kowalczyk. But with Shinn, they appear well on their way to a well-deserved comeback. (Certainly, the rest of the band is in good spirits. Thursday was bassist Patrick Dahlheimer’s birthday, and after Taylor had the Mahaffey crowd sing Happy Birthday to him, the band gifted him with a 1976 Fender Precision bass.)

Filter’s set seemed plagued by audio problems, as singer Richard Patrick spent a good chunk of time gesticulating offstage about the volume of his monitor. Eventually he stripped it off, which was a bit of a shame — Patrick has always had one of alt-rock’s great scorched-earth yowls, and you want to hear him at the top of his game. That said, his full-bodied, throat-searing performance on Jurassitol and the dark, demented disco of new song We Hate It When You Get What You Want were spot-on, and he was in good spirits by the end, even grabbing a fan’s phone to take a picture (see what we did there?) during closer Hey Man, Nice Shot. Hey, man, nice shot!

Sponge, Alexakis said before the show, were one of the first bands to invite Everclear on tour, and he was happy to repay them with a slot on Summerland. The Detroit group’s sound — a sort of grunge-meets-glam-meets-proto-emo-punk — has been somewhat forgotten over time, and while they’ve released plenty of new material over the years, their 20-minute, 5-song set was all old-school, including three songs from 1994’s Rotting Pinata, hits Molly and Plowed and the underrated, melodic title track. By the time they closed with Plowed, the leather-vested Vinnie Dombroski — picture a more lithe and with-it Scott Weiland — had the Mahaffey crowd on its feet.

And why wouldn’t they be? The crowd came for Buzz Bin-era hits, and that’s exactly what Summerland delivered. There will always be a market for that, no matter how far from today the ’90s feel.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Friday, May 31, 2013 8:26am]


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