Arizona State Fair, Nov. 5, 1995
Refreshments / Dead Hot Workshop / Gin Blossoms
by Don Price

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The Refreshments opened the rainy-evening show by ripping through about 8 of their southwestern-flavored pop songs. When I say "ripping," I mean it--seems like they'd never played in front of a crowd of this size (approx 12,000), so they were a little nervous, and played at double-speed. Ah well...they sounded great, and it was obvious they were having a BLAST!!

 Dead Hot Workshop's touring experience was apparent throughout their 45-minute set. Lead singer, Brent Babb, sporting a newly- shaven head, lead his band through a terrific set which included: "Lead Thoughts," "A," "117," "Jesus Revisited," and a wonderful rendition of "Burger-Christ," for which they brought out Robin Wilson to sing lead.

 Brent always enjoys his between-song banter with the audience, and last night was no exception. The funniest moments came when he tried to locate his mother in the audience, and when he called attention to the 20-foot video screen above the stage that was showing a close-up of his face, saying: "that just ain't right."

The whole band sounded tighter than ever, but toward the end of the set a typically unsophisticated Phoenix crowd started calling for the Gin Blossoms, rather than enjoying the sound of a talented band hitting its stride. Too bad.

 One last surprise came when Dead Hot brought out Elvis "the cat" Del Monte to sing ????? It was a great nod to the past few years of Tempe's upstart music scene, and I'm sure the ghost of Doug Hopkins was smiling down upon the whole affair. Unfortunately, very few people in the audience caught the joke, with most of them exchanging puzzled looks as Elvis mumbled through his song.

 About 8:30 the Gin Blossoms took the stage to thunderous applause, and kicked through two brand new songs before taking a breath and introducing themselves. "We've got a new album coming out soon", said lead singer, Robin Wilson, "and we're gonna play a bunch of new stuff tonight." And that's exactly what they did. An hour and a half later, the Gin Blossoms had unveiled their entire new album, rumored to be entitled "One and a Half Stars", and played through about half of their now 3-year-old "New Miserable Experience" (the latter stuff sounding, understandably, rather uninspired).

 Robin's voice sounded great, and guitarists Scott Johnson and Jesse Valenzuela showed surprising stage presence, as they jumped around throughout the evening, looking like they were really enjoying themselves. This was obviously a by-product of their extensive touring schedule over the last year, and came as a minor surprise to most of us who were accustomed to seeing a more reserved band in past years. (Keep in mind the Blossoms hadn't played Phoenix in nearly a year.)

 The new batch of songs that the Gin Blossoms brought forth provided a somewhat uneven show. Their new single "Til I hear it From You" received an enthusiastic response, but the crowd gave only "courtesy applause" to unfamiliar songs, presumably saving their energy for the big hits played later in the evening. Ironically, the noisiest moment of the night came during the first encore song, when Robin brought out Valley resident Stevie Nicks, who performed a torrid rendition of Tom Petty's "I Need to Know."

 There were, however, plenty of high moments provided by the Gin Blossoms throughout the evening. Robin Wilson mugged for the camera, and chatted with the nearly-sold-out colliseum crowd as if we were all buddies just hangin' out in his living room. Some of the lighter moments included his stories about the early days: "wow, Elvis Del Monte, AND technical difficulties....feels like 1989 all over again," and his impressions of Michael Stipe, who the band had met the night before in L.A.: "...he said he was looking to buy a dinosaur...?!"

 Another humorous moment came mid-show, when three enthusiastic teens jumped from their seats--about 15 feet above the stage---and ran around until they were wrestled offstage by the band's guitar technician. One of the stage-divers apparently dropped a pager, and Robin brought a huge cheer when he picked it up, showed it to the crowd, then smashed it into a million pieces on stage.

 Overall, the night had to be called a huge success, with the local heroes debuting a few new songs that are destined to become hits, such as the beautiful "Not Only Numb," and a rocking number entitled something like "I Will." (Unfortunately, Robin failed to mention any of the new song titles.) While most of the material sounded pretty good, there were one or two newer tunes that didn't quite hit the mark. The Gin Blossoms are certainly capable songwriters, but I couldn't help wondering what would have been had original guitarist, Doug Hopkins, still been around to pen a few of his anguished, pop love/hate songs. Something we'll never know.

 Ah well, the happy circumstance that this show drove home was the emergence of a very healthy music scene in Tempe, and Arizona. With the recent success (finally) of the Meat Puppets, the Phunk Junkeez, major-label albums on the way from One and the Refreshments, and the imminent signing of bands like the Beat Angels and the Piersons, Tempe's music community seems on the verge of an explosion, a point that Robin made when he closed the evening by saying "please support your local music scene." With the range of talent displayed at this show, that should be one easy request to follow.

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