A longtime fan of the band, TOM HERSEY has conflicting thoughts after witnessing ’90s US rock fixtures EVERCLEAR‘s recent Brisbane gig.
Everclear + Emperors + Smoking Martha
The Hi-Fi, Thursday October 11
In hindsight, the mid-to-late ‘90s seem like some of rock & roll’s darkest days. Post-grunge and prior to the garage/indie resurrection of the early ’00s, there existed a cultural black spot that will probably be long remembered as the period where Creed and nu-metal were birthed from the anus of the pop cultural zeitgeist. But beyond the gauche trends and questionable cultural moirés, there were a handful of Gen X-ers putting down their bongs long enough to pick up a Strat knock-off and write some brilliant, maudlin power-pop. Portland, Oregon’s Everclear were one of those bands before they drifted off into mid-‘00s obscurity, broke up and were ‘reformed’ by front man Art Alexakis with a completely new lineup.
In spite of these latter-day sins, the Hi-Fi is full tonight with late 20-somethings raring to see Everclear. There’s a palpable air of anticipation in the venue as supports Smoking Martha and Emperors transport the crowd back to the late ’90s. The bands, especially Emperors, tonight’s main supports, sound immediately familiar to an audience who grew up with the likes of Weezer, pre-Bob Evans Jebediah and Something For Kate.
Art Alexakis of Everclear stands centre stage with his peroxide blonde hair, choker necklace and wallet chains. For a moment I forget that 1997 never ended, and grow ecstatic as the “doo-wee-ooh”-s of So Much For The Afterglow consume the crowd. Ultimately though, 1997 was 15 years ago and in Everclear’s performance this quickly becomes apparent.
Tonight’s setlist cannot be faulted. Everclear touch on the gems from their biggest records, even offering up deep cuts like Strawberry, White Men In Black Suits and Heartspark Dollarsign to the delight of longtime fans. And it’s song choices like these that save the performance from being an unmitigated disaster.
Everclear were never much, musically speaking. Their songbook consisted of barre chords set to a 4/4 beat, arranged so that you could immediately recognise that you were listening to an Everclear song. The magic of the band was in Alexakis’ lyrics, and his sorrowful inflections as he dredged up a litany of personal woes. Everclear, after all, were the band that could turn heroin overdoses, fractured families and overt feelings of alienation into radio-friendly rock hits. Tonight, however, the band cannot even match the rudimentary musicianship of albums like So Much For The Afterglow and Sparkle And Fade. Their guitars are out of tune and they are about half a beat out time-wise. Art’s voice is husky and flat, and he sounds breathless when he tries to keep up with up-tempo numbers like Ampethamine.
Seeing Everclear perform some of the songs that I have held quite dear for most of my life, I have been listening to them since my older brother got a copy of So Much For The Afterglow when I was eight, so poorly is not an uplifting experience. But at the same, it’s not like a part of my childhood died watching Everclear bomb, their set is not an absolute dogshit display that will forever sour me on the band and their music. Sure, it’s a lousy show, but there’s fun to be had singing along to songs where you know every word like the back of your hand. Everclear, like everything and everyone else, have simply atrophied with the passage of time. Sure it’s a bummer, but it’s that kind of quiet, non-dramatic bummer. The type of bummer that I’ve had to grown well-equipped with dealing with in my adult life. The kind of bummer that listening to the depressive rock & roll of Everclear so much as a kid equipped me to deal with.
TOM HERSEY is a writer and Amazing Race aficionado.