Thursday, April 19, 2018
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'90s acts coming to Tampa Bay: Bush, 311, Fiona Apple, Barenaked Ladies, Dave Matthews, Weezer, etc.

Not long ago, I was sifting through some mix tapes I made in high school, in the years just before Napster and the iPod made "mix tapes" sound like relics from the Mesozoic.

Check out this one, from 1997: Blues Traveler's Run-Around ... Dave Matthews Band's Crash Into Me ... 311's Down ... Sublime's What I Got ... Third Eye Blind's Semi-Charmed Life ...

Or this tape, made in '98: Lit's My Own Worst Enemy ... Everclear's Heartspark Dollarsign ... Radiohead's High and Dry ... Pulp's Disco 2000 ... Foo Fighters' Everlong ...

Mind you, those are among the artists who have aged well. I also included songs by Spacehog, Kula Shaker, Tracy Bonham, Natalie Imbruglia, Eve 6 and the Cardigans.

I have no shame about loving those artists in 1998 (especially the Cardigans, whom I'll defend to this day). But by and large, radio rock of the '90s, in all its forms, was never embraced by music critics in the same way. If it came out after the Pixies and Nirvana, but before the Strokes and White Stripes, it wasn't worth your time.

But in the last year or so, the tide has begun to turn. Nineties radio rock has once again become — well, if not exactly cool, then certainly salable. Huge tours featuring all-'90s lineups are cashing in on the nostalgia of 30-somethings like me, and they're coming to an amphitheater near you.

The Barenaked Ladies' Last Summer on Earth Tour, for example, hits Tampa's 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre on Tuesday, with Blues Traveler, Cracker and Big Head Todd and the Monsters in tow (see Pages 12-13). The like-minded Summerland Tour — featuring Everclear, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Marcy Playground and Lit — is also passing through the Southeast this weekend (though unfortunately for Florida fans, it'll come no closer than Atlanta). Next week, Dave Matthews Band and 311 will play shows at the Gary.

Across the nation, this year's biggest music festivals are being headlined by acts from the '90s. Coachella had Pulp, Mazzy Star and Hologram Tupac.

Bonnaroo had Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Phish.

In September, Florida's own DeLuna Fest will bring Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Ben Folds Five and the Wallflowers to Pensacola Beach.

What the Folk Implosion is going on here?

"Everything always goes in cycles, and it seems like 20 years ago is always glorified," said 311 singer Nick Hexum, whose band plays Tampa on July 20. "I remember in the '90s, thinking, 'Are the '80s ever going to be popular again?' And then, what do you know, 10 years later, people are loving the '80s. Kids wearing fluorescent, neon, Madonna-type clothes, whatever. So definitely, we've known that the '90s were going to come around again."

One reason for the resurgence — and brace yourself for a shock here — is money. As fans enter their early 30s, many are deciding to spend some of their disposable income on artists they remember as teenagers.

"Some of these bands are not hiding the fact that they're in it for a paycheck," said Joel Weiss, music director of local alternative station 97X. "Sublime With Rome is a perfect example. Here were two guys, Eric and Bud from Sublime, who never were really able to see the success they might have seen had their frontman and main songwriter, Brad Nowell, not accidentally taken his own life right as the band was about to get big."

With new singer Rome Ramirez, "they're able to go out and call themselves Sublime in a sense," Weiss said. "They can now finally work the Sublime brand. And people that did not get to see Sublime play during their peak — which is most Sublime fans — finally get to see those songs performed by something other than a tribute band."

Barenaked Ladies bassist Jim Creeggan said that for the artists, the tours also serve as celebrations of their ability to survive the 2000s, as turbulent a decade as the music business has ever seen.

"We were all playing live in the '90s and have kept our careers going," he said. "It's maybe different from a Styx concert, where they were gone for a while, and they're back, and it's like, 'Hey, remember the '70s?' I'm not really ready to think of it in that way. It's a great opportunity for us to play these songs, and we're coming out with a new song this summer."

Even though some bands may be doing it for the money, that's not to say you won't still get a great show. British grunge outfit Bush was on hiatus for about eight years before reuniting in 2010. The group played 97X's Next Big Thing Festival at the Gary Amphitheatre in December, and as they belted out '90s hits like Everything Zen and Comedown, singer Gavin Rossdale looked like he hadn't lost a step, even sprinting from the stage up to the lawn in the middle of the set.

"I would say that they put on my favorite set in my eight years of going to Next Big Thing," Weiss said.

Over Memorial Day weekend, 97X aired a "Smells Like the '90s" marathon, blasting out oddball hits like Folk Implosion's Natural One. It was so popular they did it again on July 3 and 4. "There's such a passion for the old-school alternative stuff," said Weiss, 31. "If we put on Facebook that we're doing Smells Like the '90s, we're going to have 100 comments in the first hour. It's people just making one request after another, or people talking about how much they love it, and we should do it more often."

Hexum knows what he's talking about. Last August, when 311 organized its own festival at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, the band decided to play the 1997 album Transistor in its entirety, as a treat for the most devoted fans.

"Music is a like a time capsule, and it really brings people back," he said. "When we were dusting off some oldies to get ready … we were like, 'What a cool song! Why don't we play that live? That was such a gem from the old days.' "

     
 
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