Sponge was the first act to hit the stage, and they did so with gusto. Singer Vinnie Dombrowski (the only original member left in the band; this was actually the case for 75% of the bands on the bill) commanded the stage in a manner that was reminiscent of Scott Weiland in his prime, and the band flew around him whilst whirling their guitars around their neck. They mainly stuck to their hits, and added a lone new song to the mix. While their rock star swagger was backed up by a solid and tight performance, it offered a glimpse early on the evening about how desperate this evening could potentially be; the audience could simply be bearing witness to four bands doing what they could to cling to their former glories.
Realistically, I love “Wax Ecstatic”, “Plowed”, and “Molly (16 Candles)” as much as the next guy, but Sponge was never hugely popular outside of these songs. They had fewer than a half a dozen hits total, and they were never what I would have considered an “album band” per se. To see them carrying on as if they were the headliners by doing THE BIG FINISH to every song was slightly troubling. Also worrying was when Dombrowksi introduced a non-hit song as “one you may have heard before” and later declared that their current album was only available at these shows and specifically not available via download. It suggested that Sponge, and perhaps the other acts on the bill, may have a a wildly skewed perspective on their own place in current music as well as being quite a bit out of touch with the industry.
Filter managed to rattle that fear pretty quickly. Opening with an ever-so-slightly-more-rocked-out rendition of their 1998 hit “Trip Like I Do”, Filter actually appeared to have purpose from the getgo. Following up with a pair of songs from their latest record, The Sun Comes Out Tonight, Filter showed that their intent was not to rest on their laurels; rather, the new material did not stick out quite like Sponge’s as an excuse to go grab a beer. The new songs felt vital and fresh, and the crowd responded to them as well as they responded to Filter’s older material.
Prior to “Take a Picture”, a local friend of bassist Phil Buckman (himself a Framingham lad) brought his girlfriend out on stage to propose (successfully!), and frontman Richard Patrick had the good taste to give a reserved, relatively motion-free performance of the song to allow the happy couple to dance to the song onstage with the audience’s attention focused on them. It was nice to see even with his crystal clear agenda to prove that his band is not a nostalgia act that he was humble enough to allow someone else to have a few minutes of attention that could have been his. Even more humble was his declaration that he would jump offstage immediately following their set to stand behind their merch table and sign anything and pose for pictures with any fan who wanted him to. Most impressive was he didn’t lie; he was out there well into the next set.
Perhaps the most controversial act of the lineup was Live, who are notable for being one of the few bands of the post-Van Halen era and pre-Forbearance era for firing their lead singer (former singer Ed Kowalczyk was unceremoniously dismissed amidst accusations of legal misdoings and lead singer-ish demands from promoters to the tune of thousands of dollars). New singer Chris Shinn, formerly of Unified Theory, clearly had some big shoes to fill; Kowalczyk was a great singer, and perhaps an even better writer. Opening with safe bet “All Over You”, Shinn proved himself to be quite an adept replacement. He handled the demanding vocal range of the song with ease, and his willingness to play guitar while singing meant that Live could again be a self-sustaining band without auxiliary musicians (in Kowalczyk’s final years with the band, they had grown to at least six members for their live performances). I’m totally fine with this; the rest of Live are and always have been fantastic musicians. It’s great to hear them doing what they do without being obscured by unnecessary layers. They stuck primarily to material from their biggest album, Throwing Copper, although they did sneak in a new song that showed promise of new material that could be their best since 1999’s underrated The Distance to Here.
Everclear closed out the show with the longest set of the evening, and similar to Live, their setlist consisted largely of songs from their best-selling album. Frontman Art Alexakis is now surrounded by large band of young hired guns, and truth be told, the band was a lot of fun to watch. “Everything to Everyone”, “I Will Buy You a New Life”, and “Santa Monica” were obvious favorites, but the band managed a couple of unexpected twists in the setlist. “Normal Like You”, “Heroin Girl”, and the obscure Sparkle and Fade track “The Twistinside” were all pleasant surprises, the latter in particular being a song that was made to be heard loud and live.
Alexakis said in the initial Summerland announcement that a key part of choosing the acts for the tour was finding acts that are still making new music and are active creatively. Interestingly, his own band was the only to not play any music newer than 13 years old (and realistically, we all could have done without “AM Radio”, then and now), but after three sets of giving older bands chances on new material, it was refreshing to just hear a band play the old and familiar tunes. Everclear was known in the mid to late 90s as having a live show that was unparalleled. Personally, I saw them at their best (the beginning of the So Much For The Afterglow tour) and their worst (the end of the same tour), and I can attest to the fact that they had the potential to be one of the most engaging and fun bands one could possibly watch. The new lineup definitely comes close to their pinnacle.Summerland: Alternative Guitars was one of the most fun shows of its ilk I’ve ever been to.Overall, Summerland: Alternative Guitars was one of the most fun shows of its ilk I’ve ever been to. Even Sponge, who felt to me to be the least vital of the lot, played a fun and rousing set. Everclear and Live were both energetic and engaging, and Filter easily stole the show. The only drawback of the show was the set lengths; with the exception of Everclear, each band was limited to 30 minutes. I would have preferred to either have an earlier start time or one fewer band on the bill to have a couple of more songs from Filter and Live. But I suppose there’s something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more; with the exception of Sponge, at this juncture I’d be happy to shell out the cost of this show to see any one of the bands for their own show (and hell, Sponge would be a selling point if they had someone else I liked on the bill). With that kind of attitude, I think Alexakis and company accomplished their goal.