Semi-Charmed

Any night that ends with this:

can’t be bad. In all my anti-Jersey sentiment, I forgot the state’s saving grace: DINERS. Plus ten points for awesome diners, Jersey, but minus 100 for your lousy road signage.

Nevertheless! with directions from Google maps and a new and untested GPS, the three of us managed to get to the Wellmont Theater and back again (only to discover that my front door lock had suddenly developed an unwillingness to work together with my front door key. At one in the morning).

I have a feeling that this post may be full of digressions and tangents. I’m feeling…tangential? Not in the traditional (i.e. actual) sense of the word…digressive, then. Oh! But look at this, the third definition of “tangential” is actually synonymous with “digressive.” So there!

Back to our (ir)regularly scheduled programming…I called the Wellmont earlier in the day to ask if there was an opening band and what time 3EB would go on. They said “no” and “eight.” So naturally there was an opening band (with a bright blue electric violin! and a cello!), and 3EB went on a little after nine. It took us a while to find parking, and we didn’t get to the theater until a little after eight, so it worked out fine for us.

The beginning was not promising. The band stood around in a kind of clump, mostly in darkness with a few white lights, making – at the risk of sounding old, here – sort of awful screechy feedback-y noises. We were skeptical. Eventually, however, they launched into their first song, “Faster,” which is the opening track from their third album, Out of the Vein.

Setlist:
“Faster” (track 1 on Out of the Vein)
“Losing a Whole Year” (track 1 on Third Eye Blind)
“Can You Take Me” (track 1 on their newest album, Ursa Major)
“Wounded” (track 2 – breaking the pattern – on Blue, their second album)
“Never Let You Go” (Blue)
“Bonfire” (Ursa Major)
“Motorcycle Drive-By” (Third Eye Blind)
“Water Landing” (Ursa Major)
“Crystal Baller” (Out of the Vein)
“Graduate” (Third Eye Blind)
“Dao of St. Paul” (Ursa Major)
“Jumper” (Third Eye Blind)
“Monotov’s Private Opera” (Ursa Major)

Encore:
“Slow Motion” (Blue)
“Company” (Ursa Major)
“Don’t Believe A Word” (Ursa Major)
“Semi-Charmed Life” (Third Eye Blind)
“God of Wine” (Third Eye Blind)
“Bonfire” reprise, acoustic (Ursa Major)

They played a good mix of old and new songs, with few surprises (I guessed they would play “Sharp Knife” from Ursa, and they didn’t; I was pleasantly surprised that they played “Wounded”). I was sort of hoping for “London” and “I Want You” from their first album, but really…everyone there, me included, was really just there for “Semi-Charmed.”

“Semi-Charmed Life” – track 3 on their first album – was a huge radio hit, and deservedly so. I’ve been listening to it since 1997 and it does not get old. The crowd got excited for “Graduate” and “Jumper” too, but “Semi-Charmed” was definitely the high point of the show. Though usually at shows I have my fingers crossed for some obscure favorite buried near the end of an early album, for once I went with the crowd – it’s their most popular song for a reason. And that reason is, because it’s a damn good song.

However, I have to say that this concert was not lose-your-mind good. First, a word to the lighting guy: those strobe lights that you flash directly in the audience’s eyes? Those make us pray for you to develop epilepsy (let the punishment fit the crime, and all that). LIGHT THE BAND, NOT THE AUDIENCE. We understand that we’re going to leave with our ears ringing and maybe suffer some hearing loss down the line, but we don’t need to be blinded (no pun intended) as well. Whoever does lights at the Roseland Ballroom is also guilty of the strobe-the-audience technique, and has incurred my wrath on more than one occasion.

Second: Stephan Jenkins, let’s take a reality check here. You’re the front man for Third Eye Blind. Your band has put out four albums in twelve years, with a handful of radio hits, and while you get points for staying together and continuing to make music, 3EB is not the Rolling Stones, and you are not Mick Jagger. Mick gets to strut and swagger and do whatever the hell he wants BECAUSE HE IS MICK JAGGER. There’s only one Get Out of Jail Free card in that deck, and he’s got it. You don’t. If he wanted to sit up on stage and eat Peeps and paint his toenails, he could, but he WOULDN’T, because he is Mick Jagger and he knows better than that.

This is coming off as a little harsh, and it is, but here’s the thing: a musician should be sincere about his or her music. The show is about the music, not the musicians. I want to see them wrapped up in the songs, not in their rock-star-ness. That’s what makes a (real) rockstar: someone who plays their songs so intensely, 110% every show, and is involved in the music, not themselves. Here’s Henry Rollins talking about Iggy Popthat’s what it should be like.

So when Stephan Jenkins gets onstage and is wearing a weird sort of scarf thing which he occasionally makes into a cowl, and an odd little hat, and he takes the mic stand apart and starts waving it around, altogether looking like some sort of Jesus magician…I am not impressed. (I would have been, though, if he’d pulled a rabbit out of the hat. That would have been cool, and definitely not something I’ve seen anyone do at a show before. Maybe he could consider it for later in the tour.) Also, when he uses air quotes during a song (“Faster”) and generally wriggles his fingers around like some teenage Olympic gymnast (Nastia Liukin, I’m looking at you)…no. Just, no. YOU SHOULD BE USING YOUR HANDS FOR PLAYING GUITAR. You know, that heavy thing hanging from a strap over your shoulder. That makes sounds. That thing.

Actual Stephan Jenkins quotes from last night:

On their record label’s opinion that they should leave “Motorcycle Drive-By” off their first album: “I’m happy to say now we live in an era where we don’t have a record label so we can do whatever the fuck we want!”

Leading into “Dao of St. Paul,” indicating that it’s an exception: “I am a vulgar man.”

On “God of Wine”: “This is our driving song. I don’t do the driving, so this is my drinking song.”

In the middle of “Semi-Charmed,” he actually STOPPED PLAYING THE SONG to deliver a mini-monologue on how much the fans mean to him and the band, his gratitude, etc. And it may well have been genuine, but after all the posturing it didn’t feel that way. In general, there was simply too much talking for my taste. A little bit is okay – gives them a chance to catch their breath between songs (though again, if Springsteen can play non-stop for three hours, sprinting back and forth across the stage, hanging upside-down from the mic stand, AT THE AGE OF 60…), and lets their personality shine through a little – but as an audience member, I’m there for the music. If you say “thank you” a couple of times, we’ll know you mean it.

I should mention that the rest of the band – a rhythm guitarist from Dublin, apparently new, the long-haired bassist, the drummer – just did their thing and played the songs. Stephan Jenkins introduced them all by name at one point, but they didn’t say a single word to the audience. It was very much the Stephan Jenkins Show, rather than the Third Eye Blind Show.

Even so, it was a good concert. I’ve been listening to 3EB for longer than several of last night’s audience members have been alive, and I’m not going to stop now. It was great to hear some of those songs live – not just “Semi-Charmed Life” but also “Crystal Baller,” “Motorcycle Drive-By,” “Never Let You Go” – even if he can’t quite hit the notes the way he used to (another reason not to be so cocky. Though part of the fault also lies with the sound system and acoustics). The Wellmont was a pretty good venue, though, and for once, I drove through New Jersey without getting horribly, horribly lost. Credit for this goes entirely to my two passenger-navigators, and also, possibly, indicates a modicum of personal growth. It’s a milestone like renting an apartment, or having a real job, or paying taxes: being able to drive around the NY/NJ area without sending the stress indicator into the red zone. Does that mean I’m an adult now?

Maybe. If I wasn’t still stuck in the ’90s.

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