Back in the early to mid 1990s, I went to a lot of concerts. I mean a lot. It was a fantastic rock music era that began with Guns ‘N Roses in their prime, and Aerosmith in the midst of a resurgence, just as the Seattle grunge sound was about to explode.
Bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains quickly became household names, and carved a foothold for harder-hitting acts like Tool and Nine Inch Nails to garnish mainstream attention, and ultimately enormous fan-bases. Lighter acts, considered Alternative Rock at the time, benefited as well. MTV (back when the network still pumped out videos at a record pace) introduced Gen-Xers to infectious tunes from bands like the Gin Blossoms, Live, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and The Cranberries.
I couldn’t get enough of it, spending countless hours at a local music store in the town where I attended college, sifting through CDs and reserving copies of upcoming albums. I even set up a webpage, back in the early days of the World Wide Web, where I featured various groups that I liked. It ended up getting the attention of a great (but relatively little-known) California band called Sugartooth. At the time, they were enjoying some moderate success after turning up on an episode of Beavis and Butthead, and after their bassist reached out to me, I became the creator and manager of their official website.
And like I said, there were the concerts…
Bands of the era did a lot of touring (striking while the iron was hot), and stopped through Denver often. The biggest drawing acts would perform at Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is one of the greatest concert venues on the planet (I grew up about 10 minutes from it). Fiddler’s Green down south snagged the rest. The less popular groups played at smaller, smoke-filled, standing-room-only venues in Downtown Denver (which is where I’d more often end up).
I had a regular group of buddies that I’d attend these gigs with, and I remember insisting to one of them that I’d never give up the pastime. I fully intended on remaining a routine concert goer up until I was too old to stand for the duration of a show.
Of course, it was a naive view. After a few years, the era faded away, and bubblegum pop returned to dominate the music scene. I graduated college, and my friends and I largely went our separate ways and carved out different paths in life. Free time and good music were harder and harder to come by, and marriage and children pushed concert-going even lower down on the entertainment totem pole.
But in recent years, there’s been a bit of a revolution in the music industry — a resurgence, of sorts, of that great 90’s rocks scene. It hasn’t come from new recordings or albums (for the most part), but rather from what one could refer to as fan-focused touring. And it’s been quite a ride.
“Aren’t all concerts fan focused?” one might ask.
Well, sure. But they’re usually done in promotion of the latest album. That’s not so much the case with this influx of 90s rocks groups that are hitting the road (in some cases, reuniting for the first time in many years), and rekindling their relationship with the die-hards who desperately miss that great era of music.
These shows aren’t merely set-focused trips down nostalgia lane. The venues are softer for a matured audience (gone are the days of mosh pits and crowd surfing). There aren’t the egos and attitude-fueled spectacles of yesteryear. Political rants are few and far between. Lots of interesting and amusing stories from the glory days are shared from the stage. And perhaps most notably, these events tend to be heavily personalized, offering up VIP, meet & greet, Q & A, and photo experiences where the bands and fans get to express some mutual, earnest gratitude.
Don’t get me wrong. I realize that this is a revenue model for bands that no longer command the size of listenership they used to. These tours and add-ons aren’t offered purely out of the goodness of anyone’s heart. Capitalism is the primary component, and though society is often conditioned to see that as something artificial, it’s not. There’s no shame in a producer/consumer relationship where everyone comes away happy. In this case, the products are art and memories, and they’re no less valuable or authentic than anything else.
My wife and I have been taking ample advantage of this resurgence. Over the the past few years, we’ve been catching up with (and meeting) many of the bands we loved in our teens and twenties. This has included some of groups mentioned above, along with others that we were casual fans of at the time, but have since been turned onto their newer music.
What’s remarkable, having seen some of these groups perform live back in the day, is how much better most of them sound now. Maybe it comes from cleaner living, or fewer stresses from the record labels, but I’m pretty sure it’s not just in my imagination.
The crowds are better too, in that I haven’t had to dodge puke, avoid flying forearms, or wrestle off drunken strangers who’ve decided on the spur of the moment that they want me to give them a piggyback ride. Yes, the latter happened back then… multiple times… and I couldn’t tell you for the life of me why. Today’s audiences are well into their careers, have kids, and are respectful of each other. The music is purely an interest, not a lifestyle.
Last month, my wife and I took it a step further, flying out to Seattle for a long weekend to check out Candlebox (one of my all-time favorites). The band had reunited their original line-up (for the first time in many years) at the iconic Paramount Theatre in celebration of the 25th anniversary of their first album. In my assuredly unpopular opinion, it’s one of the best rock albums ever. The band performed all songs from it, from beginning to end, in front of their friends, family, and a few thousand of their biggest fans. The night was truly magical.
This resurgence, of course, won’t last forever. If your music tastes sound similar to mine, I’d encourage you to check out Pollstar or BandsInTown to see which acts are headed your way. You’ll probably be surprised by who all is out there, and if you pick up some tickets, you likely we won’t be disappointed.