A version of my review originally appeared in the Orange County Register Soundcheck blog. Photo above, taken at the Hollywood Palladium in July 2009, courtesy of thirdeyeblind.com
When Third Eye Blind reached the halfway point of its 95-minute set Sunday night at the Grove of Anaheim, frontman Stephan Jenkins urged the urged the crowd to embrace togetherness and “make friends with someone before you leave.” Bohemian sentiments are apparently still ingrained in the San Francisco singer and guitarist.
During the late ’90s, the Bay Area band was ubiquitous on MTV and alt-rock radio (especially KROQ, one of the first stations in America to lend support). “Semi-Charmed Life,” 3EB’s extremely catchy song about sex and recreational drugs, topped that format’s chart, crossed over to mainstream pop stations and became one of the most played songs of 1997.
The quartet’s self-titled debut album wound up becoming a juggernaut, spawning five smash singles and going six times platinum. Major tour stints (for U2, the Rolling Stones) as well as Jenkins’ dalliance with film (Rock Star, featuring Mark Wahlberg) and high-profile dating of actresses (notably Charlize Theron) ensued.
The group’s follow-up, Blue, wasn’t quite as successful, but it did notch three more Top 20 modern-rock chart hits and eventually crossed the million-seller mark.
A few months ago, Third Eye Blind returned with Ursa Major, its first full-length studio effort in six years, which entered the Billboard albums chart at No. 3. Jenkins produced the socially-conscious-leaning collection, where he occasionally shows that his knack for crafting memorable hooks hasn’t dissipated.
Has that revived their popularity? Well, the Grove was about three-quarters full Sunday — and the gig got off to an incredibly weird start.
Incense burned near the front of the stage as drummer Brad Hargreaves (he and Jenkins are the only original members now) emerged in shadows to trigger a techno-styled rhythm. Then the group’s female tour keyboardist climbed on top of the speakers, glow sticks covering her body, and did a dance that seemed to last an eternity. I felt like I’d walked into the wrong venue and was watching the Prodigy instead.
Continuing in the dance-rock vein, the group opened on a disjointed note with “Can You Take Me,” one of seven selections from Ursa. All five musicians were shrouded in dim light and both screens at the side of the stage were shut off. Concert-goers seated in the Grove’s last two section tiers must have been mighty irritated.
Third Eye Blind took a while to find its footing. Jenkins’ initial aloofness (he didn’t say a word until a half-dozen songs in) combined with having everyone hidden in the dark like some goth band for 20 minutes didn’t help matters. Everything finally clicked with another new one (the moody “Sharp Knife”) and the giddy “Never Let You Go,” where lead guitarist Tony Fredianelli’s careening effects prompted audience howls and a loud singalong.
Although it was the end of a seven-week tour, Jenkins, 45, didn’t seem too worse for wear. Playing acoustic guitar, the frontman was a riveting presence on “Motorcycle Drive By,” which built to a U2-style crescendo. Many of the Ursa songs benefited from brawnier arrangements live, especially the soaring “Bonfire” and the folk/rap track “Water Landing,” bolstered by ebullient harmonies. “Jumper” was pure energy, yet the spirituality in “Dao of St. Paul” came off a bit heavy-handed.
A seated guitar solo by Fredianelli was unnecessary; at least Hargreaves’ drum break was an extension of a shorter one in the raucous “Graduate.” Awkward techno strains came back during a reworked “Monotov’s Private Opera,” where Jenkins was covered in glow sticks and tossed them out (again, very weird).
For the encores, Third Eye Blind brought the house down with the strident rocker “Crystal Baller.” Jenkins excelled with some rapid-fire wordplay on the jittery new single “Don’t Believe a Word,” where he referenced Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” amid these peacenik lines: “Rap stars brag about shooting each other/ Whatever happened to ‘brother brother.’”
Finally, an extended “Semi-Charmed Life” was ragged and grungier than usual. Fans sang along at top volume and a seemingly gracious Jenkins told them, “You remind us of who we are.” I’ll bet a lot of people felt all warm and fuzzy inside upon exiting.