For over 30 years, Arizona’s Gin Blossoms have been playing rock shows across the country. This run was a special one as they made the rounds performing their famous, multi-platinum album ‘New Miserable Experience’ in its entirety. They did this last year as well in 2018 to celebrate it’s 25 year anniversary. The tour was so successful that they decided to do it again this year while also having the tour presented by Sirius XM radio station Lithium. The alternative rock band was supported by the pop punk veterans in Punchline. We were lucky enough to “experience” the ‘New Miserable Experience’ at the House of Blues in Chicago on February 22nd.
As we were heading into the sold out show we could see several excited fans that were anxious for the show to start. The 25th anniversary show had hit St. Charles, IL last year which is about an hour west of downtown Chicago. The House of Blues is twice the size of the venue they played last year so this would give more people a chance to see what they had missed last year.
Punchline welcomed the crowd to the show with “Darkest Dark” from their new album ‘Lion’. Chris Fafalios then took charge on “Friend From The Future” with a sweet bassline that got the crowd bopping their heads. After the song, Fafalios took some time to recall some of the past memories that the quartet had in Chicago. He recalled playing at a VFW in Arlington Heights and the well-known Metro as well. They also had recorded one of their albums in the city as well. This led them into another song from their new album titled “Another Tale of Remember When”. The band really brings in that signature pop punk sound with rhythms that pick up quickly and distorted power chords while having those catchy melodies from vocalist Steve Soboslai. Despite having records all the way back to 1998, the band stuck to their recent material and went only back as late as 2010 for “Roller Coaster Smoke”, a song about the television show Lost. The band is also doing something special for their tour. They asked everyone at the show to send pictures of their pets to [email protected] as they always put together a video at the end of each tour. Later in the set, the band talked about their experience with Gin Blossoms. They had met them any years ago when vocalist Robin Wilson took them out on his boat after he saw them play a show out in Arizona. After this, the crowd was treated to a surprise. Soboslai made sure to dedicate this song to Dolores as they launched into a cover of the Cranberries’ “Linger”. The crowd erupted in applause afterwards as everyone belted out the words in honor of the late Cranberries singer. After this, Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms made a surprise appearance. He greeted the crowd and also let them know that the show that night was being recorded for a live CD to be released in the future. Following this, Punchline ended their night on a high note with the upbeat and poppy “Universe”. The Pittsburgh band did a great job getting the crowd warmed up for the main act for the night and set the tone for an epic performance.
At around 9:00, the crowd yelled with enthusiasm as Gin Blossoms walked onto the stage with all the lights on. Vocalist Robin Wilson took a few sips from his mug, picked up his acoustic guitar, and then broke out into “Here Again” with the rest of the band, a number from their newest record, ‘Mixed Reality’. Aside from playing all of ‘New Miserable Experience’, the band was pretty heavy on material from the new record that was released less than a year ago, playing other songs from it like “Break”, “Face the Dark”, and “Still Some Room in Heaven”. Wilson let the crowd know that it was definitely going to be a tour to remember as there was always his favorite choice of bourbon waiting for him in the dressing room every night of the tour. After a ripping through a few new songs, they began performing the record that had been such an integral part of many fans’ lives. When most bands do an anniversary tour, it always seems like they leave a song or two out to keep from completing the entire album playthrough. That was not the case tonight. The band kept their word when they said they’d be playing it front to back, all the way from “Lost Horizons” to “Cheatin'”. Watching from the balcony side stage, I could see how the fans profoundly reacted to getting to hear this record live and seeing the impact that it had on them in their lifetime. After possibly their biggest hit “Hey Jealousy”, Wilson introduced the rest of the band. Aside from the drummer, the lineup has not changed much since the band reunited in 2001. Bill Leen is still on bass guitar, Jesse Valenzuela plays lead guitar (and lead vocals at times), Scotty Johnson on guitar, and Scott Hessel behind the kit, who joined the band in 2012. As the show went on, Wilson told stories about the band’s history, like when they played around 180 shows in 1989 at venue in their hometown called Long Wongs. They also told stories about their time spent with former member Doug Hopkins, Hopkins was a core writer on ‘New Miserable Experience’ and committed suicide shortly after the album was released. Credited for writing songs like “Hey Jealousy”, “Found Out About You”, “Allison Road”, and more, this album may not have ever happened without Hopkins. A toast was raised to him later in the set by Wilson and also to John Hampton, the producer of ‘New Miserable Experience’. A lot of things from the 90s haven’t aged well, but this album remains timeless. Gin Blossoms looked like they were still having a blast performing these songs that they had wrote so long ago. The age did not show at all as they flawlessly executed every song. Robin Wilson has an infectious stage presence and communicates with the crowd very well, handing out tambourines and posing for photographers throughout the set. During “Hands Are Tied”, Leen was playing so hard that he broke one of his bass strings. This took the band all the way back to 1988, which was the last time that Leen had broken a string on stage. That was at a show opening for legendary English rockers The Psychedelic Furs. One of the highlights of the nights was seeing the crowd belt out all of the lyrics to “Found Out About You”. The band zipped through the entire album and ended it with Jesse Valenzuela on lead vocals for “Cheatin'”. A lot of people don’t realize it but Valenzuela was actually the original vocalist of Gin Blossoms, so it was awesome to see this song come back to life after hardly being played by the band in the 1990s. After finishing up ‘New Miserable Experience’, the band treated us to another new song, a couple of tracks from ‘Congratulations, I’m Sorry’, and an interesting choice of a cover. “‘Til I Hear It From You” brought those nostalgic vibes from the mid 90s along with the epic guitar work of Venezuela. Following that, Wilson brought the acoustic back out and began playing a cover of “Fake Plastic Trees” from Radiohead. For the first verse, it was only him and the guitar. The band joined him for the rest of the song. They stayed true to the original and performed a beautiful rendition of the song. It wasn’t something I expected to see from someone like Gin Blossoms but they executed it extremely well. They have done off the wall covers before though, including one from The Backstreet Boys. To close the show, Wilson brought out that famous harmonica for the big hit “Follow You Down” which always makes for a great crowd sing a long. After a memorable night, the band sold a signed guitar at their merchandise booth following the show and all of the proceeds went to Jail Guitar Doors, a company that sends instruments to prisons to give people in prison an outlet to express their creative interests in a non-violent way. All in all, both bands put together strong performances and made it a memorable night for all that attended. The tour is still going on and I highly recommend checking it out if they are coming near you. You can check out the rest of the tour dates below. Also make sure to check out our photo gallery of both bands as well.
Gin Blossoms ‘New Miserable Experience’ Tour Dates:
2/28 Lake Buena Vista, FL – House of Blues
3/3 Bonita Springs, FL – Southwest Florida Event Center
3/4 Ponte Vedra Beach, FL – Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
3/5 Atlanta, GA – Buckhead Theatre
3/7 Austin, TX – Scoot Inn
3/8 San Antonio, TX – The Aztec Theater
3/9 Houston, TX – Houston of Blues