The decade of the ‘90s has become the latest era to be mined and plumbed for its nostalgic gold, the latest addition to the classic-rock family. Sunday night, three bands whose heydays overlapped in the 1990s gathered for a night of remembering at Crossroads KC: Fastball, Vertical Horizon and, the headliner, Everclear, who celebrated the 20th birthday of its most popular album by performing it in its entirety.
Fastball opened the evening with a 40-minute set of well-crafted pop songs that seem unbound to any particular period or trend. Their set included a jazzed-up version of the eternally catchy “The Way,” their best-known and –written song, plus “Fire Escape,” “’Til I Get It Right” and a couple bars of “Midnight Rider” performed as a tribute to Gregg Allman, who died May 27.
Vertical Horizon followed with a brisk, hour-long, 10-song set that included its most popular songs plus a track from an album due this summer.
They’ve been recording albums since 1992, but didn’t break through until 1999, after they’d signed a big-label deal and released “Everything You Want,” which went double-platinum and included five of its biggest hits. They performed all of those: “We Are”; “I’m Still Here”; “Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning),” which would later become a hit for country singer Gary Allan; “You’re a God”; and “Everything You Want,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2000.
Their popularity is understandable. Their music is as instantly accessible as it is innocuous. The melodies are engaging and often include some thoughtful chord progressions; choruses are sing-along worthy; and lead singer Matt Scannell has a strong, pleasant voice that is light on soulfulness but sounds comfortably ensconced in the music that surrounds it.
The crowd of 900-plus or so responded enthusiastically to the entire set, including the new song, “Written in Stars,” which dovetailed seamlessly with the older material, “Love Struck,” which Scannell said was inspired by the band’s fondness for Depeche Mode and New Order (but revealed no similarities to either); and “Lucky One,” an adult-contemporary ballad that sounded like the theme song to every date-flick/romance film ever.
The set ended with a flourish, “You’re a God” and “Everything You Want,” their two biggest hits, which inspired the two loudest sing-alongs of the set.
Everclear took the stage dressed formally in black suits and ties and proceeded to deliver a 90-minute set that was rough, loud and informal.
They are celebrating the 20 th anniversary of “So Much for the Afterglow,” their third and most successful full-length album, released in October 1997. They performed it in the order they recorded it, splitting Side 1 from Side 2 with tracks from other albums: “Heroin Girl,” a track from their breakthrough album “Sparkle and Fade”; “Fire Maple Song,” from the debut “World of Noise” album, released in 1993; and “The Man Who Broke His Own Heart,” from Everclear’s most recent album, “Black is the New Black,” released in 2015.
Art Alexakis is in his mid-50s but he performs with plenty of enthusiasm and attitude. The sound at first was rough – too bright and bottomless – which did no favors to his voice, which can swerve into speak-sing and get swept into the brash noise that accompanies him.
Their music is loud, riff-heavy and melodic and includes some changes that can get lost and underappreciated amid all that heft and noise. But after an hour or so, a sameness can start to settle in and songs start to bear similarities to one another.
But, as Alexakis said, Everclear is primarily a lyrics band: He writes descriptive and candid and often pitiless narratives and allegories about people going through tough situations, about their anger, pains and weaknesses, like “Father of Mine,” about the man who abandoned him when he was a boy: “My dad he gave me a name / Then he walked away.” Or the title track to “Afterglow,” which addresses dealing with a romance – or any situation – when the honeymoon is over and the fires dim and fade: “We never talk about the future / We never talk about the past anymore … I guess the honeymoon is over.”
On this Memorial Day weekend, Alexakis, an avowed liberal and political activist, dedicated “Buy You a New Life” to members of the military. “I have always been anti-war,” he said, “but I’ve always been pro-troops,” which aroused a long, loud ovation from the crowd.
He also thanked to the Laser, the former radio station in Lawrence (KLZR) for being the first radio station “in the world” to play “Heron Girl” back in the early 1990s.
The show would break its midnight curfew by a few minutes, in time for the band to add a few more hits and favorites to the set list after finishing Side 2 of “Afterglow.” One of those songs was “A.M. Radio,” a nostalgic look back at the days of Alexakis’ youth, the days before the internet and DVD players. It aptly brought to a close an evening that was all about that: remembering the past, warmly and candidly.
So Much for the Afterglow; Everything to Everyone; Normal Like You; I Will Buy You a New Life; Father of Mine; One-Hit Wonder; Heroin Girl; Fire Maple Song; The Man Who Broke His Own Heart; El Distorto de Melodica; Amphetamine; White Men in Black Suits; Sunflowers; Why I Don’t Believe in God; Like a California King. Encore: AM Radio; Wonderful; Santa Monica.
Instamatic; Send It Up; We Are; Written in the Stars; I’m Still Here; Love Struck; Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning); The Lucky One; You’re a God; Everything You Want.