words by brent johnson | photos by bill bodkin
The Gin Blossoms have played larger venues, they’ve stood in front of bigger crowds. But Saturday night was the first time the ’90s hitmakers played The Stone Pony, a New Jersey landmark and one of the nation’s most vaunted rock clubs. So forgive frontman Robin Wilson for being excited.
“In Tempe, Ariz., we’ve heard myths and legends about this place,” Wilson told the sold-out, lively audience that crammed into the Pony’s already-cozy confines. “Some people thought we’d never make it to The Stone Pony. But we proved it to them!”
It’s been 17 years since the Blossoms scored their last Top 10 single. And these days, they often play to older crowds eager to hear a set filled with greatest hits. Saturday, though, showed the band can still put on an energized, memorable concert.
The show was part of Light Of Day, a festival to benefit Parkinson’s disease research held every year in Asbury Park, N.J., the musically rich oceanside city that The Pony calls home. The Blossoms played all of the half-dozen hits they sprinkled on the American charts through Clinton’s years in office, but the album tracks they performed were just as strong. Guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Scott Johnson treated the crowd to robust guitar solos. And Wilson — ever the showman — jumped about the stage with ageless glee, passed his tambourine through the audience and gave a few fans a souvenir by snatching their cell phones from the front row and singing directly into their video cameras.
More than anything, though, the show was a happy reminder of an often misunderstood era in music history: the melodic guitar rock that populated the airwaves in the wake of grunge’s demise. Think Third Eye Blind, The Wallflowers, Semisonic. Little of it was ever heavily experimental. Little of it broke new ground. But the songs were always strong — well-written, hook-laden, and laced with simple guitar parts that were still memorable. The Gin Blossoms produced some of the era’s most recognizable tunes: the urgent “Follow You Down,” the grit-filled joy of “Hey Jealousy,” the yearning “Til I Hear It From You,” and one of the decade’s best singles, the moody yet catchy “Found Out About You.”
Saturday, the crowd sang along loudly to all of them — knowing each and every word. Then, for the encore, the Blossoms got to live out another dream: sharing the stage with guest Eddie Munoz, the guitarist of 1980s cult rockers The Plimsouls. Once again, Wilson was clearly excited.
In other words, he and the rest of the band couldn’t have asked for a better welcome to the Jersey Shore’s most mythical, legendary rock club.