Huoppi's Gin Blossoms Report: Power Poppers Still Vital

Some folks are outstandingly efficient.

Consider Pete Huoppi, my pal and frequent collaborator on all sorts of video projects for The Day. We're both fans of the rock band The Gin Blossoms, and in particular their melancholy, liquor-soaked masterpiece, New Miserable Experience.

The Blossoms played Saturday night in the Mohegan Sun Wolf Den and I couldn't make the show. Huoppi and his lovely wife, Jen, though, attended. I'd asked him ahead of time to let me know how it went.

Normally, you'd expect someone to respond to a request like that by saying, "They rocked" or "They sucked" or "We ended up doing too many shots of pineapple schnapps in Michael Jordan's Sports Bar and never made the show."

Well, Huoppi doesn't like pineapple schnapps — and they did make the show. And he emailed me a damned fine account of the concert — so damned fine, in fact, that I'm printing the entire thing right here.

Thanks, Pete! I feel almost like I was there! Herewith is Huoppi's report:

Three songs into the Gin Blossoms tight 75-minute set at The Wolf Den Friday night, lead singer Robin Wilson remarked, "Damn, we sound good."

He wasn't bragging, but rather referencing the group's busy touring schedule -- 15 shows in the last 12 days, Wilson claimed. If the band was tired, the frontman didn't let it show.

From the moment he stepped onstage, Wilson was constantly interacting with fans. Before opening with "Don't Change for Me," he entered the stage waving his white tambourine to a woman in the front row who had brought an identical one to the show with her. At least one other audience member arrived packing a tambourine, possibly from a previous Gin Blossoms date.

At the start of "Somewhere Tonight," Wilson turned the front row into a percussion chorus, handing his tambourine to a third audience member before retrieving another for himself.

At times, Wilson's energy could seem out of place -- a contrast to the melancholy lyrics of the band's early work. "Lost Horizons" and "Found Out About You," songs about alcoholism and heartache written by the late Doug Hopkins, seem like they shouldn't be delivered with a smile. But that was 20 years ago, and Wilson is not a brooding rock star. He may look two decades older, but his voice hasn't aged a bit.

I was introduced to the Gin Blossoms as a high school freshman when the radio started playing a song that I thought was called "Hey Chelsea." The music had enough Gen-X angst to make it on the rock stations, but was accessible enough to get played (you might say over-played) on the pop stations. I lost track of the band after a while, but I find I can still sing along to most of the songs on their debut album, New Miserable Experience.

Friday's show was my first exposure to material from their two latest albums, and their power-pop songwriting still holds up.

The Wolf Den sees a lot of artists whose best years are behind them, and the temptation must be strong (as evidenced by a few other acts I've seen) to plow quickly through the hits and collect their checks. The Gin Blossoms, and Wilson in particular, genuinely seemed to be having fun. During "Learning the Hard Way," Wilson played the cymbals with his tambourine just forcefully enough that a stagehand had to come out and re-adjust the drum kit. In the middle of "Wave Bye Bye," he strutted with his wireless microphone (for the second time) along the semicircular half-wall that separates the lower and upper seating sections.

The band closed the main set with the crowd favorite, "Hey Jealousy," and moments later Wilson traded his tambourine for an acoustic guitar to lead an encore of "Competition Smile." After shaking hands and mugging for cell phone photos, Wilson grabbed his harmonica for the opening of "Follow You Down." Part way through the song, he tossed it backward, where it arced over the head of drummer Scott Hessel -- and into a waiting case in the arms of a roadie.

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