Sunday, February 25, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins talks 20th anniversary tour and shrugging off the critics

There may be no cool way for a critic to admit this. But the heck with it. I'm 37, secure in my Merrills and middle-aged squareness. I've got nothing to lose. So here goes:

I love Third Eye Blind.

I own most of their music, multiple T-shirts, have seen them a half-dozen times live. They were my first-ever concert — Aug. 8, 1998, in Knoxville, Tenn. — and it still stands out, as first concerts usually do, as one of my favorites. I will argue the merits of recent albums like Ursa Major and We Are Drugs to anyone who believes they stopped making good music in 2000 — including many music critics, who would never hold the alt-pop outfit in the same esteem as peers like Radiohead or Green Day.

"They were wrong," singer Stephan Jenkins said recently by phone from San Francisco, streetcars dinging in the background. "We didn't start getting critical acclaim, really, until our second record. It bothered me, and it also bothered me that it bothered me. And then over time, I really stopped giving a f--- about it. And that's when I got my first real sort of rock-and-roll, punk-rock sensibility."

It has also, in a strange way, led Third Eye Blind to where they find themselves this summer: reissuing a 20-year anniversary edition of their six-times-platinum self-titled debut album, and hitting the road to perform it in full, including radio smashes like Semi-Charmed Life, Jumper, Graduate and How's It Going to Be. The tour stops at Clearwater's Coachman Park on Saturday, and for a lot of 30-somethings (hello!), it'll feel like the ultimate nostalgia-fest, a chance to relive an album that some of us memorized track for track.

"Although I am not nostalgic, I think it's kind of amazing," said Jenkins, 52. "I've never played that album all the way through, and I'll probably never do it again, but I think it's cool that we're giving it a nod."

Third Eye Blind is a rarity from the post-grunge, pre-indie late '90s, in that the album was popular at the time, yet somehow grew in stature and significance as the years went on. Out of all the splashy, polished, hook-filled alterna-pop albums from that era — the waning years of big-budget rock before Napster and iTunes sent the record industry into a tailspin — it's arguably aged the best. Jenkins said that at one San Francisco alternative station, three tracks have been in weekly rotation for 20 years.

It wasn't until a decade ago, Jenkins said, that he realized all of this. He kept noticing that fans at his shows weren't all aging along with him; young new ones kept showing up. He kept getting offers to perform for fans less than half his age at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, even Coachella, where the Chainsmokers brought him out to sing Jumper.

Whenever critics wrote about Third Eye Blind's longevity and following, it seemed to be with an air of surprise: Wow, can you believe Third Eye Blind drew such a big crowd? Can you believe those songs got such a passionate response? Where have these guys been?

Answer: They've been touring and writing new music the whole time, nurturing that cult fan base in ways that went well beyond nostalgia for the '90s.

"With this whole generation of kids, the marketing had sort of worn off, and all of anybody else's senses and expectations of us had evaporated," he said. "What was left was this playlist, and kids who share it with each other through various different streaming capacities. The music is current for them, and it puts into manageability some kind of internal landscape for them. And that keeps the music alive in a way that is just glorious for me."

On their new Summer Gods Tour — so named for new music that Jenkins hopes to have out soon — Third Eye Blind will play songs from other albums like Blue, Ursa Major, Out of the Vein and Dopamine "but there's this chunk where we're going to play the record," he said. And that's where the community of fans that has built up over the last 20 years will really get to let their Third Eye Blind geekdom fly free.

"If you show up and you are eligible to feel things, to let yourself really feel things, to be taken into it, then you're going to have that kind of exalted, up-and-out-of-yourself kind of feeling that having this encounter with music in groups creates," he said, "It's a collective experience, people feeling something together. And what that does, what's so amazing about it, is that it makes them realize they're not alone. It makes them feel that in some deep way. I think that is marvelous, and I love making that happen."

And then Jenkins turns the conversation back to me and my first concert experience, seeing Third Eye Blind on the original tour supporting this same self-titled album.

"I'm more empathetic than I was the first time you saw me, and I'm just going to knock the bottom out of that gig for you," Jenkins said. "Wear sensible shoes, and come to get down."

No problem there, Stephan. I've got my Merrills at the ready.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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