There needed to be the right set of circumstances to drag my ass to Portland to see an Everclear show, and Wednesday night at the Wonder Ballroom provided those exact requirements. The group returned to their hometown to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their breakthrough album, Sparkle and Fade, and would play the record in its entirety. Though I have ignored Everclear’s more recent output for a number of years, I still have fond memories of listening to Sparkle and Fade in my high school years, and continue to insist that it is one of the best top-to-bottom alternative rock albums of the 90’s. I was more than glad to relive those days, aided by the guarantee that I would see all my favorite songs performed live.
This was more of an “Everclear” performance than an Everclear performance, with Art Alexakis having long shuffled out the “classic” lineup of Greg Eklund on drums and Craig Montoya on bass for a rotating cast of supporting players. To be fair, the band was always the manifestation of Art’s vision, and one would be hard-pressed to come up with many memorable contributions from either former member (though I have always loved Eklund’s signature drawn-out single-stroke rolls). As long as it is Art singing and playing his songs, fans are going to be happy, as they were on Wednesday night.
The band threw a number of curveballs in the usual Album Anniversary show, including opening with “I Will Buy You A New Life” from Sparkle and Fade‘s follow-up, So Much for the Afterglow. The choice initially threw the crowd for a loop, but soon they were singing along to every word; Art explained the decision at the conclusion of the song, noting that it was the success of Sparkle that would allow him to promise that house “way up in the West Hills” from the chorus (and to which many fans recognized, pointing in the direction of that part of town during the performance). The band then launched into the familiar strains of “Electra Made Me Blind”, and the crowd went wild.
It was not a perfect performance, with the band often dragging through some of the slower parts, and Art tending to give off a frustrated vibe when the crowd failed to remember all the lyrics for sing-along portions. However, the highlights made up for any perceived shortcomings, including rousing versions of “You Make Me Feel Like A Whore” and “Heartspark Dollarsign”, and a touching performance of “Queen of the Air”. The decision to insert the old favorite “Fire Maple Song” from their debut World of Noise in a mid-set break to mark the divide between Side A and Side B of the album was brilliant, as was giving the crowd a brief taste of their huge hit “Santa Monica” before saving it for the last song of the night, ending the evening on a high note.
There were many who questioned what kind of reaction Art would receive in his hometown show, since there was a significant subset that never accepted Everclear as a true Portland band. It was an uncertainty that even Art acknowledged early in the night, but the Wonder Ballroom was packed with fans who showed their love for the band with great volume throughout the show. The snide hipsters were unable to get a ticket to the sold-out show, and the night was the better for it. We loved Sparkle and Fade and the man that created it, and we did not need to hear any dissenting opinions that night.
Openers Hydra Melody had to be the slickest opening act I have ever seen, an impressive feat since I understood that they were touring in support of their first full-length album. There was a confidence to their performance that was admirable, as they often acted as if the crowd had paid their tickets to see them instead of the headliner (though this is not to say that they dismissed the presence of Everclear, when in fact it was quite the opposite). Their style did not quite align with my preferences, though they never bored me. However, I am sure at least one of our readers will enjoy the fact that they featured a cover of Toto’s “Africa”–perhaps this will cause him to almost buy their album!