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: Gin Blossoms at Snoqualmie Casino

A rather lazy crowd greeted the Gin Blossoms first show of 2015 on Friday at the Snoqualmie Casino in Snoqualmie, WA where the band played a 16-song, 90 minute set in front of about 600 people.

A large portion of those in attendance remained seated for much of the concert including folks in the front rows which even singer Robin Wilson tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to get to their feet throughout the course of the show.

Granted Gin Blossoms’ music isn’t hard-charging rock but, hey, it’s still the Gin Blossoms.

The band from Tempe, AZ opened with “Follow You Down” from 1996’s Congratulations I’m Sorry and tapped into their latest album No Chocolate Cake, now more than four years old, with “Somewhere Tonight” and “Miss Disarray” during which the audience took to the seats and stuck a lot of the show’s energy under their chairs.

Wilson brought the acoustic out for “As Long As it Matters” but guitarist Jesse Valenzuela stole the spotlight on this one with some great soloing. The always fantastic “Found Out About You” from their multi-platinum New Miserable Experience brought the crowd back to its feet which solicited Wilson’s first comment about the audience mailing in their excitement.

Robin Wilson

Robin Wilson

The anguishing “Until I Fall Away” displayed Wilson’s heartbreaking vocals at their finest but the pace proved too slow for this audience to stand. “Learning the Hard Way,” one of many gems off of 2006’s Major Lodge Victory, but sadly the only tract played from the album, brought another rocking Valenzuela solo and a solid jam from everyone on stage. The band returned to their breakthrough album with “Lost Horizons” and “Allison Road” before stringing off three straight from No Chocolate Cake starting with the upbeat, but a bit silly, “Dead or Alive on the 405” which even Wilson said at the end, “I don’t understand the meaning of that song.”

Wilson finally managed to get the crowd back on their feet with the fun “I’m Ready” but it didn’t last long once “Wave Bye Bye” got going despite more great vocals. The band closed out the set with “Till I Hear It From You” and the always popular “Hey Jealousy” one of maybe three songs the band still gets airplay on local radio. The encore included “29” and the cover “A Million Miles Away.”

Overall, it was a solid set and the band played well. Wilson’s vocals were sharp. Their newest drummer Scott Hessel, who joined in 2012 and looks a lot like Dave Grohl, pounded out some good rhythms. Valenzuela and guitarist Scott Johnson compliment each other well and trade off performing solos.

Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson

But, the audience doesn’t deserve all the blame for their lackadaisical temperament. The Gin Blossoms seem content on squeezing as much as they can with their singles and a handful of other songs from the past. They showcased no new music which isn’t much of a surprise since Valenzuela said in an interview a while back that he’d be happy to record a single here and there and just play live shows for the next 20 years.

The band is planning a summer tour with other notable acts from the 1990s like Toad the Wet Sprocket and Smashmouth as they’ve done the last few years but for the most part hop around the country playing small venues. Two years ago at Spirit Mountain in Oregon in a venue twice the size and a whole lot more people, the band seemed on the cusp of regaining some of their 90s magic and popularity. This time around it was hardly a sell-out.

However, if they want to be a touring band, a la REO Speedwagon and Styx, it would do them well to at least release a few more albums. Sure, their catalogue of work holds up for a 90 minute show but they clearly have the energy to play and youth is on their side to release a few more LPs. Valenzuela seems ready to bust out some hard rock chords at a given notice and even Bill Leen, who seems oddly uncomfortable at times on stage, cranks out a pounding bass guitar.

Ironically, it was David Swafford, Wilson’s roommate when he was 20, who filled in for Leen on the final song, and provided some much-needed stage personality but to a cover song.

Gin Blossoms Setlist at Snoqualmie Casino

  1. Follow You Down
  2. Somewhere Tonight
  3. Miss Disarray
  4. As Long As it Matters
  5. Found Out About You
  6. Until I Fall Away
  7. Learning the Hard Way
  8. Lost Horizons
  9. Allison Road
  10. Dead or Alive on the 405
  11. I’m Ready
  12. Wave Bye Bye
  13. Till I Hear it From You
  14. Hey Jealousy
  15. 29
  16. A Million Miles Away

Written By: AndrewT

How to Wash Concert Shirts

Little is more sacred to the concert goer than the tour or concert T-shirt.

I can attest to this. I have many.

Most are now stored away in a bin but I am known to wear a current one at least once a week. The concert shirt takes on different meanings for different people but I believe a common theme is the wearable collectable or keepsake.

In the “old days” I usually bought a concert shirt at any show attended. It was for me a reminder or bookmark, if you will, that I attended this concert during said year. To attend a show without walking away with a tour shirt almost negated the fact that I was there. In the 90s, concert shirts were a rip off – typically $25. Today, they are highway robbery – now $35 and up. For a T-shirt!

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Nowadays, I do not buy a shirt at every concert attended. Not just because the shirts are expensive and I’m of the age that

wearing one makes one pause, it’s just that I have so many and well I have other more distinguished shirts to wear. Plus, concert shirts are not exactly made of the finest fade free fabric. Besides, unless I am a really big fan of said band, why wear one?

That’s not to say that every time I attend a concert I don’t look at what’s being sold. I still like the idea of buying some sort of memento and I always glance over at the merchandise booth to see what’s on sale. Sometimes a shirt is simply so cool looking I revert back to my younger self. But then the price and my burgeoning drawers tell me otherwise.

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

When deciding on a concert shirt to buy it’s always best to choose color wisely. Granted, for whatever reason, bands often employ ridiculous and extremely loud graphics that I wouldn’t be caught dead in (another reason why I tempered my shirt purchases). So, if likeable options exist, gray is your best bet. (See exhibit A) This 2002 Gin Blossoms shirt has been washed in warm and even had grease removed using harsh chemicals. It’s just as solid a wear as it was so many years ago.

Avoid the White t-shirt. It looks good for a few washes and then it undoubtedly gets dingy. The cure? Hot wash and in worst case scenario bleach. This is the death nail for the shirt. Any newness of graphics and tour dates are gone and the shirt instantly looks 10 years old.

The most common tour shirts are black and red is gaining in popularity. Handled with kid gloves, color and graphics need not be washed away in the spin cycle. How pray tell is this accomplished?

This brings me to how to wash your concert shirts. Whether or not this is an art form is anyone’s guess however this method

Exhibit C

Exhibit C

described below works and is beneficial to anyone who cherishes their concert shirt and wishes to wear it years after attending the tour promoted on their shirt. (See Exhibit B – a Rush shirt from 2013 washed once compared to Exhibit C – a New Order shirt from 1993 washed numerous times.)

First of all, always wear a regular t-shirt under your concert T. In the winter months this allows you to delay washing by as many as two “wears” and in the warmer months keeps your souvenir from absorbing sweat. This is critical because of how you will wash your tour shirt. The methods outlined below work for all colors:

  • Never wash your shirt in warm or hot water. If your washer, as does mine, offers the “Cold Tap” option – use it! The tap is typically colder than the washer’s temperature-controlled cold setting.
  • Use Woolite! For your darker concert shirts use Woolite Dark.
  • Use a delicate or “medium” wash setting. That high spin will suck the life out of your shirt.
  • Never put your shirt in the dryer. Ever. Always hang dry.
Rush old

Exhibit D

 

Using these techniques gives years of wearing enjoyment. (See exhibit D for a Rush shirt from 1990 that did not get special treatment.) If followed religiously, that concert shirt from 20 years ago can still get a starting rotation nod. Of course, wearing and washing once a week, like any article of clothing, degrades the fabric and graphics over time rendering it useless.  Space out your wears and when signs of aging appear cut back to special occasions.

 

 

Written By: AndrewT

Concert Review: Gin Blossoms Continue to Grow Fan Base

The Gin Blossoms brought their version of 90s alternative rock to Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde, OR on Saturday without a lot of fanfare but with a whole lot of fun.

Gin Blossoms singer Robin Wilson

In perhaps one of the biggest venues the band has head-lined in recent memory (their last stop to the Portland-area was in Albany at the Linn County Fair) the Gin Blossoms eloquently played a 16-song set that featured six from their latest album No Chocolate Cake – now already two years old. Lead singer Robin Wilson, blessed with perhaps the most emotive tone in pop rock today, guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Scott Johnson and bassist Bill Leen, do things quite casually, meandering on-stage with no introduction, but what the band lacks in showmanship Wilson certainly makes up for in stage presence.

Fans are now so accustomed to Wilson’s antics some bring their own tambourines in hopes of being called out to play along with the band. Those without them Wilson graciously provides the extras and passed them out as he saw fit. Alas there was no shortage of high-fives given cheerfully by Wilson and a number of people were either sung to via phone or now have part of a Gin Blossom’s song on their voice mail.

The Gin Blossom’s started things off with Chocolate’s “Don’t Change for Me” and then “Lost Horizons” the first track from their smash album New Miserable Experience and continued with “Miss Disarray” probably their biggest hit from No Chocolate Cake. “Somewhere Tonight,” “Dead or Alive on the 405,” “I’m Ready” and “Wave Bye Bye” rounded out the songs from their latest album.

No Chocolate Cake (2010) felt, at the time, like a sophomore album after the fantastic Major Lodge Victory which came out in 2006. There are some solid songs on Chocolate but it didn’t quite live up to Major Lodge (their first studio release in 10 years at the time) which in some ways redefined the band and felt like a successful first album. However, the live songs from Chocolate were surprisingly strong and revealed the strength of the album. “I’m Ready” was one of the best songs of the night and showcased the band’s ability to jam.

Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela

Both Valenzuela and Johnson took turns taking lead and soloing and their deftness at their craft has never been stronger. Valenzuela performed a beautiful extended solo during “Learning the Hard Way” and Johnson did likewise on “Til I hear it From You.” Give it up for Leen who typically hovers in the background but didn’t let Wilson take all the spotlights as he thumped around up front – and even smiled a couple of times.

Of course, a Gin Blossoms concert would not be complete without fan favorites “Found Out About You” and “Hey Jealousy” which Wilson did not really need to sing as the audience took over most of the vocal duties. “Until I Fall Away” didn’t really measure up to the album version and was the only low-point of the evening.

For purists the band’s core members are still intact from their hey-day which gives them an element of authenticity and, in today’s short-lived music world, relevancy. (They’ve been recycling drummers since they reunited.) They broke up shortly after releasing Congratulations, I’m Sorry in 1996 but reunited in 2002 and have been more or less touring ever since while releasing two albums. However, it seems as though they are unwilling to take it to the next level which can be easily done by stepping up the show’s production. Wilson looked like he had just woken up and Leen looked like he just got back from running errands. They don’t even have a merchandise table which is unheard of in today’s music scene.

Regardless, the music is there and fans can expect more of the same for some time to come if Valenzuela gets his way. In an interview earlier this year, he indicated a desire to move away from recording full albums and instead release singles for movies or TV and he’d be happy to continue touring for 20 more years.

Gin Blossoms Set List (Spirit Mountain):

  1. Don’t Change For Me
  2. Lost Horizons
  3. Miss Disarray
  4. Allison Road
  5. Somewhere Tonight
  6. Until I Fall Away
  7. Dead or Alive on the 405
  8. Learning the Hard Way
  9. As Long As It Matters
  10. Found Out About You
  11. Til I Hear It From You
  12. I’m Ready
  13. Wave Bye Bye
  14. Hey Jealousy
  15. Follow You Down
  16. Can’t Hardly Wait (The Replacements cover)

Written By: AndrewT