Live Review: Eve 6 & Everclear

The Steamroller's live music correspondent Conor Sullivan (of Oh Theodora & Collectors Edition) saw Eve 6 and Everclear last weekend. I'm on a bunch of mailing lists for PR companies that represent bands both big-time and small (mostly small). A lot of the time, these messages get ignored, but when I received a press release highlighting an upcoming tour featuring coheadliners Eve 6 and Everclear, with a stop in nearby Joliet, something clicked. I knew Conor to be long-time, unironic fan of both bands and thought this would be a nice opportunity to check in with few bands most folks haven't given a second thought to in years.

In this last year, I have gone to some incredible concerts. I saw Prince shred at the United Center, Chicago’s own Gold Motel stun at Schubas, and Frank Turner turn a Riot Fest crowd into gleefully dancing dorks. However, one show I’ve gone to this year left me with a longing to dive deeper into the atmostphere and figure out just what I had seen. This wasn’t some hep-cat art cabaret band playing The Metro. In order to get this visceral of a feeling from a concert, I had to drive to Joliet, IL to see 90’s pop/punk stalwarts Eve 6 and Everclear.

You just scoffed, didn’t you? That seems to be what most people do when I mention them. To most, Eve 6 and Everclear are just like any other forgotten fad of the turn of the century, like Tamagotchis or movies starring Jonathan Lipnicki. But in 2012, both these bands are on the up and up. Eve 6 reunited and put out a wonderful album called Speak in Code that ranks as one of their best. Meanwhile, Everclear released Invisible Stars,  a punchy back to basics record that I can only see as an atonement for putting out two albums of overproduced auto-tuned re-recordings of their greatest hits (Note to ALL bands: NOBODY ever wants this.)

When I was 13, Eve 6, Everclear, and eating a lot of Sour Patch Kids defined my life. In 1998, my friends loved all of these things too. By 2012, they were uniformly indifferent. Even as I attempted to hype them up (“Dude! The first song off the new Eve 6 has a major Gang of Four vibe!”), I couldn’t get anyone else to pay attention. So it was with great interest that I approached Joliet (which by the way, resembles the factory-closing town of the 1977 film Slapshot in too many sad ways) for this sold-out show. If no one cared about them, then who would be at this show? And more importantly, what were they expecting to see? Was this a concert or a novelty?

The first 30 minutes did little to answer my questions. The opening band Namesake’s cover of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” only made the irony line blurrier. But soon enough, Eve 6 showed up, diving right into “Situation Infatuation,” a catchy as hell dance tune off Speak in Code. The crowd, previously church-goer polite for Namesake, began losing their shit. For the duration of their set, Max Collins, the red-headed frontman, went off on delightfully cheerful monologues between songs. After years away from it all, he was ripped (literally muscular) and ready to go.

At one point, he thanked us all for supporting “pop/punk,” a phrase he repeated over and over. It’s bizarre, I’ve never seen anyone be proud to be considered pop/punk. Green Day would rather be the biggest rock band in the world. blink182 would rather be The Cure. There’s a stigma to “pop/punk.” Malls come to mind. Ties worn over tank tops come to mind. But here was Max Collins, reminding all of us, “No matter what anyone says, Pop/Punk is not dead!”

In another world, Collins would be Jonathan Richman of Modern Lovers fame. Both play innocent music, love to deviate songs from the album versions, and live for creating a direct connection with whatever audience they’re playing for. At some point before bending into the crowd for an impromptu duet with a rabid fan, Collins asked everyone in the audience to raise a hand up in the air as they launched into their Graduation staple “Here’s To The Night.” “Just allow yourself one vulnerable, sincere moment,” he said. “This is our gift to you!” I know reading this description that it sounds just HORRIBLE, but it wasn’t. EVERYONE in the crowd held their hand up. If anyone scoffed, they were at the bar, cheekily checking into Foursquare.

That’s something I noticed with Eve 6. Their hits were gifts, not necessities. Their new songs were just as vital as the old. So by the time they gifted us with “Inside Out,” the crowd was overwhelmed. After their set, the room was abuzz with impressed murmurs. There was a collective thought in the air: “Whoa, I underestimated these guys!”

A half hour later, Everclear emerged to the acapella intro to the title track of their wonderful 1997 album So Much For The Afterglow. Art Alexakis and his backing band (a revolving door of musicians since 2003) hit all the points one would expect from an Everclear show in 2012. There were some surprises (the highlight being an acoustic duet with Max from Eve 6 on “Strawberry” from Sparkle and Fade), but otherwise Everclear played it safe, playing only two new songs. If Eve 6 was joyous and expansive, Everclear was just happy to play the hits. Art’s banter was fun, but a bit canned, with at least seven utterances of “Make some fucking noise!” (It’s 11:20 at night in Joliet, Art! Some of us have to get up for the factory jobs we’ll soon be losing!)

If this sounds like a negative review of their set, it’s not. Art’s an elder statesman of pop/punk, twenty years Eve 6’s senior. He’s earned the right to play a sell out show and give ‘em what they want. And everyone forgets just how many hits they have: "Santa Monica," "I Will Buy You A New Life," "Everything to Everyone," "Wonderful," "Father of Mine" come to mind. That’s a whole lot of catchy tunage for a band that all my friends scoff at. And these are pop songs about abandoned children, sociopaths, and heroin girls. These are characters from AMC hour-longs, not songs for Gen X’ers to remember the good times to.

But oh did they remember the good times! “I don’t give a fuck!” screamed a Thirtysomething Louis CK lookalike in a ratty Nike hooded sweatshirt as he and his mortified girlfriend double fisted Budweisers and shoved through the crowd for a better view. He and his buddy, a smaller, stouter version of the same sad, beaten human being complete with a matching apathetic date, were sullen and sneering at the rest of us poor saps trying to have a good time. That is, until Everclear played any song written before 2000, where they turned into the 18 year olds they once were.

Like the stodgy food critic in Ratatouille, I witnessed a transformation over these schmos. As the muted strums of “Santa Monica’ coarsed through them, their pudgy fist pumps transported them back to a GMC Jimmy truck circa-1997. I could see the Saturday nights they used to have. They’d stop at Blockbuster to rent Twister, pay a townie to buy them a six pack of something awful, and drive around looking for a party. All the while, they’d scream-sing about swimming out past the breakers and watching the world die. When the song was over and Everclear left the stage, our heroes throttled back to the present and their texting girlfriends. Double Fist-CK took one last sip of both his Bud Heavies, and pushed his way towards the exit. They probably listened to country music on the ride home, but that’s just an assumption.

Driving back, I thought of the cool concerts ahead for the rest of the year. Japandroids are coming next month, and that show’s going to be killer. But it won’t have the same wonderful buzz I felt in Joliet. It won’t have the excitement of finding a group of dopes that also still care about my 13 year old self’s favorite bands. It won’t have the redemptive power of much mocked bands proving they can still hack it and then some. And it certainly won’t have time travellers.

Scoff all you want, guys. Eve 6 and Everclear still fucking rule. And so do Sour Patch Kids.

-Conor Sullivan