Album Review: Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience (Vinyl)

Simply ear candy.

If it’s been a while since you sat down and listened to New Miserable Experience from the Gin Blossoms. Then don’t.

At least not until you buy it on vinyl. For several years, my record collection hunt included the band’s multi-platinum album from 1992 as well as the solid 1996 follow-up Congratulations I’m Sorry to no avail. Since the 1990s marked in many ways a temporary end to vinyl records I figured these albums on large black disks were somewhere lost on the horizon.

Therefore, it came with great excitement a few months ago when the Gin Blossoms announced the release of both albums (for the first time) on vinyl record on March 24, 2017. So that’s why they proved so elusive!

New Miserable Experience serves as a quintessential album of the 1990s. Released in 1992, it didn’t find much traction until “Hey Jealousy” hit the airwaves a year later, and by 1994 it was a smash record. It helped usher in the start of the alternative rock era and in many respects represents the sound of a perfect debut album (yes, Dusted was technically the band’s first album which includes a number of songs off Miserable… but hardly comparable in terms of production and engineering). New Miserable Experience also typifies what often happens after a band captures lightening in a bottle. It’s hard to capture that full magic again.

It’s a beautiful record, epitomizing 90s alternative rock at it’s finest while oozing heartache and flowing with drama. One needn’t a degree in psychology to recognize the pain suffered by principal song writer Doug Hopkins. Nor would it come as a surprise to learn he committed suicide just as album sales skyrocketed. He was dismissed from the band before the release of the album because of persistent alcohol problems.

Yet, while Hopkins wrote “Hey Jealousy” and the band’s other huge single “Found Out About You” singer Robin Wilson and guitarist Jesse Valenzuela (both current members) wrote the somber “Until I Fall Away” another huge hit for the band and Wilson penned the fantastic “Allison Road.” New Miserable Experience is reflective and often wistful perhaps of lost loves, lost opportunities and just bad decision making it’s also a bit witty with “Cajun Song” and “Cheatin’” while “Hold Me Down” is a fun uptempo rock song.

Alas, if you were lucky to discover the Gin Blossoms either before or during the band’s ascension it’s a good bet any one of these songs brings back feelings and memories of your personal yesteryear. It was a must-have album in the mid-1990s and is synonymous with the college years for many who put New Miserable Experience on repeat while studying or lamenting over the same things Hopkins so brilliantly defined.

It’s one thing to get lost in thought the next time you hear “Hey Jealousy” or “Found Out About You” during a flashback or 90s lunch on your local alternative rock station it’s another to tune out the world, sit down with the linear notes, and listen. Vinyl records always sound better and New Miserable Experience is no exception. Plus all those lyrics you sang along too might be a bit off.

Phillip Rhodes’ percussion and drum fills come across crisp, Bill Leen gets upfront and moves these song’s forward on bass guitar, Hopkins’ and Valenzuela’s guitars (acoustic strumming, melodic chords, solos,… etc. – see what I did there?) melt in your ears and Wilson’s vocals. Wilson is one of the most underrated singers in rock today. Such a smooth delivery with that buttery original tone. No one sounds like him.

The record itself plays flawlessly and features the cover artwork for the album’s re-release in 1993 and a back-then photo of the band with Hopkins’ replacement and current member Scott Johnson. You probably didn’t know the original front cover artwork for the album depicted a desert scene. A single loose sheet inside the record sleeve features the lyrics on one side and all the photos featured on the CD insert on the flip-side. Credits go to Wilson, Hopkins, Leen, Rhodes, Valenzuela and Johnson. Rhodes continued with the band when they reunited in 2002 after breaking up in 1997 but is no longer active.

It’s a big year for the Gin Blossoms as 2017 represents their 30th anniversary and the 25th anniversary for New Miserable Experience. A sixth album is expected this year with the band hiring producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter who worked on the R.E.M. albums Murmur and Reckoning.

So how about a fully produced tour in support of the new album, celebrating the band’s anniversary and playing New Miserable Experience in it’s entirety?

Grade: A

New Miserable Experience Track List

  1. Lost Horizons
  2. Hey Jealousy
  3. Mrs. Rita
  4. Until I Fall Away
  5. Hold Me Down
  6. Cajun Song
  7. Hands Are Tied
  8. Found Out About You
  9. Allison Road
  10. 29
  11. Pieces Of The Night
  12. Cheatin’

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Social Distortion Brings a Little Religion and Politics to Portland

Social Distortion returned to Portland, OR for the second time in 18 months on Friday at the Roseland Theater this time in support of their 2017 Spring Tour which featured two new songs, a wide selection of their 90s fare, some political speak and an ounce of religion.

Last time around the Southern California punk band celebrated the 25th anniversary of their eponymous album, this time they drew heavily from 1992’s Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell and 1996’s White Light White Heat White Trash, which offers its own religious themes.

They started things off with two from Somewhere… “Bye Bye Baby and the popular “Bad Luck” followed by the always great “Don’t Drag Me Down” off White… before tapping into their most recent album Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes – now six years old! – “California (Hustle and Flow)” which included a pretty cool extended jam and “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown.”

Founder and lead singer Mike Ness introduced “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown” by asking the crowd if they had watched the evening news prior to the show before making a plug for National Public Radio and saying Fox News and CNN won’t give you the “sweet and lowdown.” Not even five songs in before the reality of America collapsing in on itself snaps back. Gee thanks. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time.

Perhaps that explains a somewhat subdued aura that filled the first half of thew show. Or maybe it was just the extreme momentum changes throughout the evening. Even the slam pit (oh sorry kids call it the mosh pit) took a bit to get going. The classic “Ball and Chain” felt softened in part because of the slowed tempo arrangement for the final chorus which worked well but then following this version of one of your most popular songs, by the country-infused “This Time Darlin’,” completely let the sails down.

Thankfully, Social D got right back into it with the heavy “Dear Lover” which in terms of setlist placement works far better as an opening song but helped re-energize the audience. The crowd surfing returned!

A new studio album is in the works for Social Distortion and like usual the band is taking their time. They offered a taste of what’s to come with “When You Lay Your Burden Down” a play on the religious theme of asking for help but it’s not a religious song, Ness said, who confessed to believing in God though he doesn’t read the Bible or attend church. It won’t be a radio hit either, he admitted, of the bluesy track which sounded like a marriage between “Up Around The Bend” the band’s contribution for the movie soundtrack of the same name and an old slave spiritual.

What should be a radio song is “Scars.” It’s reflective and emotional, born from Ness working through some childhood memories he swallowed after working on a book about his life appropriately titled “The Story of My Life” which is apparently also now delayed – at one time listed on Amazon as a forthcoming release. Even after just one go around, “Scars” indeed is a fine song and a polished studio version could certainly bring Social Distortion similar attention as their break-through self-titled album from 1990, especially if the rest of the album proves as splendid.

Social Distortion closed the first set with the fantastic and not often played live “When She Begins” and opened the encore with “I Was Wrong” and then the political discourse began. In a monologue of sorts, Ness rambled on regarding today’s political climate, beating around the bush extensively without naming names and said something or other about reading books and documentaries which seemingly enlightened him. Then there was something about how all the corporations have the power and money, or something to that effect,  and then he mentioned that Canada has healthcare. Huh?

It made little sense partly because he was hard to understand but also it seemed what he really wanted to say, he feared saying. Whether that’s because he knows all political stripes enjoy Social Distortion (quite evident in the sold-out crowd) or perhaps deep down a rock concert isn’t the forum to spout what’s often called “political vomit,” whatever the case, entirely unnecessary and unwanted.

(However, considering Ness earlier in the evening sang Your history books are full of lies/media-blitz gonna dry your eyes it’s a bit ironic, don’t ya think? And, did Ness include economist Milton Friedman and Walter Williams in his readings? Especially when it comes to healthcare. Does he know that Canadians who need major surgery now often come to the United States because the wait line is so long and pay for it out of pocket? He mentioned watching documentaries along with having concerns for the environment…. )

Oh, sorry! You came here not for a political review but to read how good the Social Distortion concert was in Portland last night. Just like the audience went to watch Social Distortion play their awesome songs at the Roseland Theater but got a political review. On to the show!

The band wrapped up their 17 song, hour and 45 minute set with an acoustic version of “Gotta Know the Rules,” “Story of My Life” and “Ring of Fire.” Despite the above intrusions, the last half of the show kicked and it’s a delight to see Ness really extending his vocal range. “Scars” tested him and you’d be surprised just how high his growl can reach. The band, which includes Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham on guitar and Brent Harding on bass (together with Ness comprise the longest running line-up in the band’s history) played tight and included a few more musicians at various times during the night including an acoustic guitarist and keyboardist/pianist as well as David Hidalgo, Jr. on drums.

But it’s time for a new album. Hopefully, Ness (who is synonymous with Social Distortion) brings a fresh stage show and a whole bunch of new songs back to Portland in the forthcoming year.

Social Distortion Setlist at Roseland Theater in Portland, OR

  1. Bye Bye Baby
  2. Bad Luck
  3. Don’t Drag Me Down
  4. California (Hustle and Flow)
  5. Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown
  6. Ball and Chain
  7. This Time Darlin’
  8. Dear Lover
  9. “Buying Time” – Instrumental jam
  10. Cold Feelings
  11. When You Lay Your Burden Down
  12. Scars
  13. When She Begins
  14. I Was Wrong
  15. Gotta Know the Rules
  16. Story of My Life
  17. Ring of Fire

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Duran Duran Throws Two Day Bash in Palm Springs

Duran Duran at Agua Caliente Casino

What a party.

Duran Duran commenced their short 2017 Spring Tour on Friday at the most enjoyable The Show at Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage, CA (just outside Palm Springs) with sold-out back-to-back performances at the 2,000 seat venue. The Tour of the Americas, which heads south in a few weeks to central America before wrapping up the States in April, continues support for the band’s successful album Paper Gods, out a year and a half ago.

Both nights offered the same setlist (and no opening act) with an order change for a couple of songs on Night 2. Radio staples and popular singles featured prominently through the evening as both nights brought 16 songs – a few less than last year’s full tour – but it was a ball nonetheless.

You know something special is unfolding when it feels like nearly every song builds into what’s usually reserved for the climatic finale. And that’s how it was. Both nights. Two confetti showers for each set, an immaculate light show, a raucous crowd and a contagious energy that began the moment members of the band stepped on stage and didn’t let up until they left.

Is that bassist John Taylor on keyboards?

Like the 2015 and 2016 legs of the tour, Duran Duran started the evening with the title

track of the new album followed by most of their hits from the 1980s with a couple of more new songs in between. “Wild Boys” followed sending the audience into a frenzy and the Core 4 never looked back. They killed it on “A View to a Kill” which sounded so good you’d swear they lipped synced the whole thing. Afterwards on Night 1, singer Simon Le Bon, soaking in the boisterous crowd, said some of the best places they play include casinos like Agua Caliente and commented that the evening marked the beginning of a new phase of Paper Gods.

Duran Duran played “Only In Dreams” for the first time in the United States on Friday and again on Saturday. It’s a bit forgettable and a somewhat annoying song on the new album, but live it works well. Really well, actually.  It’s catchy with a great guitar groove. Also new this leg was “Is There Something I Should Know” a single track included on the Decade greatest hits album from 1989.

Missing? Oh boy. The fantastic “What Are The Chances” off Paper Gods, “(Reach Up For The) Sunrise” and “The Reflex.” No “Planet Earth,” either. Wait. Say what? Yes “The Reflex” failed to make the cut and should have at least been offered as an alternative to their cover “White Lines.” Duran Duran doesn’t need much help getting their fans standing but “Sunrise” off 2004’s Astronaut gets even the curmudgeon(ist) on their feet. Ok, check that – alternate “White Lines with “Sunrise.”

Alas, beggars can’t be choosers. Or perhaps you’re just left wanting more, more, more. Indeed, it combined a rock concert (“White Lines”), a techno show (“Last Night in the City”), 80s nostalgia (pick ‘em) and 100 percent Duran Duran rolled into a flashy club setting.

Nick Rhodes who missed a number of tour dates last summer because of an undisclosed “urgent family matter” was back behind the keyboards and Le Bon was flanked by John Taylor on bass and now long-time guitarist Dom Brown with Roger Taylor on drums. The stunning Anna Ross brought the counter vocals to Le Bon’s on “Come Undone” (wow!) while both she and fellow back-up singer Erin Stevenson helped fill the stage, kept the audience dancing and the two swapped on a handful of duet duties with Le Bon.

Duran Duran Throws a Party

This isn’t the first time Duran Duran booked this venue on their tour.  The last time they did it followed a sold-out performance at the gigantic Hollywood Bowl. The Show at Agua Caliente offers an arena stage setting inside an intimate theater giving big name acts like Duran Duran an opportunity to connect to their fans in an unprecedented and special experience. They took advantage of the moment and so did their fans.

It was 90 minutes of bliss both nights. Duran Duran looked fresh, sounded perfect and looked hungry for more.  Whether or not Le Bon meant something cryptic when commenting about a new phase for Paper Gods the band shows little signs of slowing down. Neither do their fans. Their dedicated fan base took Le Bon’s comments to heart on Night 2 when he said they better bring it if they’re to surpass the crowd from the night before. They did.

By the way, thanks Mr. Le Bon for saying nothing about the current state of political affairs in America. We attend concerts to forget about life for a while.

Certainly, Duran Duran did their job on these two nights.

Duran Duran Setlist at Agua Caliente Casino (Palm Springs)

  1. Paper Gods
  2. Wild Boys
  3. A View to a Kill
  4. Come Undone
  5. Only in Dreams
  6. Is There Something I Should Know
  7. Notorious
  8. Pressure Off
  9. Ordinary World
  10. I Don’t Want Your Love/Last Night In The City*
  11. While Lines/I Don’t Want Your Love*
  12. Last Night in the City/Hungry Like the Wolf*
  13. Hungry Like the Wolf/White Lines*
  14. Girls on Film
  15. Save a Prayer
  16. Rio

*Denotes Night 2 Setlist Change

Written By: AndrewT