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Summerland Tour in Great Falls scratches that itch for 90s nostalgia

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Everclear rocked the Four Seasons Arena Sunday night with Eve 6 and Soul Asylum in the 2014 Summerland Tour show
Everclear rocked the Four Seasons Arena Sunday night with Eve 6 and Soul Asylum in the 2014 Summerland Tour show

Even without a whiff of flannel on stage last night, the 2014 Summerland Tour featuring Everclear, Eve 6 and Soul Asylum rocked the packed crowd at Montana ExpoPark back to a time when MTV still played grunge music, or any music for that matter.

The show was a grand display of rock and roll energy that rivaled the hydroelectric dams in which Great Falls has become known.

And even if the bands, one could argue, might be getting close to being past their primes, they’re still equipped with all the right tools to rock your face off, and that they most certainly did.

The major question in a show like this one is that while each of the bands have had one, two or three hit songs in the 90s, how would they do at performing songs that nobody remembers?

To answer that question, they mostly succeeded in that regard, although neither Everclear nor Eve 6 shined as brightly with their non-commercial hit songs quite like Soul Asylum did.

Firstly, though, let’s get to the main reason most people went to the show — an evening travel back to the 1990s. A time when you’d stay up long past your bedtime to maybe see the new Eve 6 song debut on 120 Minutes with Matt Pinfield as you watched the end of the latest “Beavis and Butthead” episode. (Which might have shown an old Soul Asylum cut if you were lucky.)

And indeed last night Eve 6 hit the ground running with their hit songs, “Inside Out,” and “Here’s to Tonight.” The band’s latest single, “Curtain,” also kept things interesting.

Eve 6 is one of those bands that hasn’t had to change much of their sound since the early 2000s when they were a hot new group from Southern California. What made them popular then still makes them attractive today — the poppy hooks, heavy guitar riffs and Max Collins’ gravely, angst-tinged vocals.

The acoustics, which will never be as good as say the Mansfield Center or even Centene Stadium’s outdoor acoustics, sounded decent enough, although there were a few issues with the sound system that were fixed promptly, but did cause some distraction for a few seconds during Eve 6’s set.

The band, though, brought the same level of enthusiasm whether or not it was a song people knew and loved, or one many of us had never heard before.

Max was quite chatty between songs, as well, which is always welcome in a performer. He wasn’t too chatty — he didn’t go into why this song was written and what he’s been doing for the past month or what his favorite food at the fair was, but he did engage the audience with words of encouragement. He asked us to let go of all our stress through our bodies and just let the music consume us. It’s a nice zen-like technique to help the audience connect themselves to the moment.

Eve 6
Eve 6

But, even though they brought the same enthusiasm to all of the songs, Eve 6 is always one of those bands that has a sizable gulf between their well-known songs and their unknown ones, and seeing them last night didn’t do anything to change that. They seem to have come to grips with that, though, and like I said, the fact that they’re still writing songs that have the potential to reach critical mass is a sign of a healthy, creative band willing to continue exploring new ideas.

After Eve 6, Soul Asylum took the stage and briskly went from one song to the next with only a few minutes of breaks for applause. They came here to rock, pure and simple, and did their jobs well.

I was surprised to find out that Soul Asylum actually has been around since the early 1980s. Perhaps the oldest song they played was “Closer to the Stars,” which was on the 1986 album “While You Were Out.”

If you’ve never seen them play, they present a tight, well-crafted show with pure rock and roll energy from start to finish. Their Grammy-winning song “Runaway Train,” is just another song in their setlist and it doesn’t stick out that much from the rest of their songs, perhaps only in that it’s the most recognizable.

To keep things fresh, vocalist/guitarist Dave Pirner played on both acoustic and electric guitars and nailed the band’s other crowd pleasers such as “Misery,” “Black Gold” and “Somebody to Shove.” 

Everyone in our group of friends seemed to agree that Soul Asylum brought their A-game.

Finally, Everclear hit the stage and I’m saving the most scrutiny for them, only because as the headliner I feel you’re deserving of the most praise and/or the most criticism.

Everclear has the most well-known hits of all three acts and they made sure to play all of them — “Father of Mine,” “I Will Buy You a New Life,” “So Much for the Afterglow,” “Everything to Everyone” and my favorite, ” Santa Monica.”

Soul Asylum
Soul Asylum

Part of me felt like they were playing it a tad bit too safe for my liking. The energy level seemed a little low, but at the same time when Alexakis asked everyone to jump up and down during an up-tempo song, only about half the crowd was jumping. The crowd energy seemed nonexistent at times and somewhat enthusiastic at others, for whatever reasons.

The low part of the set came when the band seemingly stumbled through one of my favorite Everclear songs, “White Men in Black Suits.” I think they played it a tiny bit too loud throughout to the point where we  couldn’t hear many of the lyrics, which is a shame given that it’s such a good song that doesn’t need to be so loud. The concert was nice, overall, given that it the loudness didn’t ruin the vocals all that much. It was a nice mix given the circumstances.

All of these criticisms don’t take away the strong parts of the band’s pre-encore set, however. With “I Will Buy You a New Life,” hitting all the right notes, along with the opening song, “So Much for the Afterglow.”

It’s also apparent that Art cares about his fans, even if the energy wasn’t the most enthusiastic. Immediately after the show he was in the crowd interacting with fans in the front. A friend of mine got a photo taken with him outside of the arena, as did others. He’s always done a great job of connecting with his fans, and this only proves that quality about him.

It was a little odd, then, that when Art let the crowd sing “Father of Mine” and “I Will Buy You a New Life,” from where I was sitting in the bleachers, we could only sort of hear the songs being sung. Which, isn’t to say that it was totally flat. It really seemed to take the encore for the energy to spike from both the band and the crowd.

Before then, however, probably the high mark for the crowd energy was Art’s solo performance of “Brown Eyed Girl,” which to be honest isn’t my favorite version of the song. But while I didn’t love  it, the audience did, so I will defer my personal opinion to the room’s.

I would have to say that my favorite part of the set came, as I hinted earlier, after the encore. The guys rocked through a medley of sorts featuring a batch of instrumental Judas Priest, a touch of Queen and most of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” I would have loved to hear more Zeppelin.

Probably the best part of the show, though, and the reason for spending your money, came at the very end when members of all the bands came together on stage for one of the best versions of “Santa Monica” I have ever seen in person, on video or in an album recording.

Not only was everyone the the venue singing along, the whole room was booming for the first time of the night.  The guitars, the drumming, and vocals all hit the apex at the right time for more than one might could possibly expect in a 90s throwback show.

If you have a chance to see the 2014 Summerland Tour in a town near you, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.

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