I do a reasonably good job of keeping up with what’s current in the music world, but if you look at my iPod, the majority of the content is from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, and the most common genre on there is what was known, at least at one point, as “modern rock.”
When I was young, I had always just listened to whatever my dad had in his collection, which was and still is a pretty gigantic selection. His favorite band was Genesis, and his favorite singer Phil Collins, so my favorite artists were Genesis and Phil Collins. I knew pretty much every word of every song they put out between 1980 and 1995.
As I hit middle school, I started listening to the radio and hearing more modern songs. I remember going into the music section of department stores with my dad and thinking that I might soon buy a tape of my own. I know, right? Cassette tapes! The one I had my eye on, incidentally, was (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis (like everyone else, I knew “Champagne Supernova” and “Wonderwall”), but I never pulled the trigger. In fact, I wouldn’t own the album until I went to England in the summer of 2000, nearly five years after its release.
Instead, it was Cracked Rear View by Hootie and the Blowfish. I played the tape to death. I mean that literally: one day it stopped working and got all twisted up and ripped inside the stereo.
My sister had a CD player before I did, so I bought the CD and made myself a cassette copy for my walkman, but owning the disc eventually led to me getting a player of my own. With that came a need for new CDs, so I would occasionally flip through my dad’s record club (remember them?) catalog to see if there was a deal on something from someone I had heard on the radio.
For some reason, this was a big deal to me. I had to make the right choices. I mean, buying an entire album on the back of hearing just one or two songs seemed like a stretch, and in retrospect, I must not have been alone, because now we have iTunes for the exact purpose of purchasing songs piecemeal.
Finally, I had my two choices, and they were winners. The more popular one, having sold over 15 million copies to date, was Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox Twenty. It’s a great album, and helped launch the band to incredible heights in the late 90s and early 2000s.
The other choice became one of my favorite albums I’ve ever bought: Fuel’s Sunburn. The track “Shimmer” went on to reach number two on the Modern Rock charts, and was one of the most-played songs on Modern Rock radio in 1998. The band followed up the album with Something Like Human in 2000; the lead single, “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” spent 12 weeks at the top of the charts.
After another release in 2003, lead singer Brett Scallions left the band. Scallions had a very distinct, kind of nasally sound, and without him, I couldn’t imagine there being a Fuel at all. They offered the lead singer’s job to Chris Daughtry of American Idol, but he declined, so they found another guy who spelled his name “Toryn” and released an album in 2007. I didn’t hear a single track from it, let alone buy it. After that, as far as I was concerned, Fuel was done.
Which made sense, really. I know that bands can swap out drummers (Oasis went through like four of them, not counting temporary tour replacements) or guitarists or bassists and it’s no big deal, but the voice of the lead singer is pretty much the calling card of a band. Sure, there are some people who care more about the music than the lyrics, but for most of us, we identify an artist by their voice, and other than Van Halen, I can’t think of another group that changed singers and maintained its popularity or relevance. When you change singers, you become a different band.
About a week and a half ago a friend of mine told me about a free concert he wanted to attend. Another one of our friends was going to go, and his buddy was coming as well. Free concert, free parking, friends, ::cough::drinks::cough::, fun…why not? The performers almost didn’t matter, but the lineup was two bands: Alien Ant Farm and Fuel.
Fuel?!? Apparently they were still together. I had no idea, and I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the venue. I hoped they would play the old stuff, even though I knew it wouldn’t sound the same. I wasn’t familiar with any of their music after their third album, but instead of researching it in advance, I decided to just show up, listen, and hope for the best.
Alien Ant Farm played first. Good. Fuel started in Tennessee, but they moved to Eastern Pennsylvania before they hit it big, and the Philadelphia area helped propel them to the national stage, so it was almost a homecoming of sorts. You’re darn tootin’ they’re headlining!
Most of the audience knew exactly two Alien Ant Farm songs. They played their first two songs (the singer was doing a lot of that on-stage convulsing that a lot of hard rock/post-grunge “nu-metal” singers do, even though they weren’t exactly thrashing around up there) to a fairly disinterested audience, but when they started playing their familiar track “Movies,” a bunch of arms went up in the air and people started singing and dancing.
I lost interest in their set after that, chatting with my friends and enjoying the newly-discovered Redd’s Apple Ale(s) in my hand. Two members of our group liked the band, so they enjoyed it, but it was apparent that most of the people there, myself included, were more interested in Fuel. That did not stop any of us from enjoying their last song, their well-known cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”
About a half hour later, amid a few scattered rain drops that never amounted to anything more than, well, a few scattered rain drops, Fuel took the stage. They opened with the first track from their second album, “Last Time.” The singer sounded familiar, like really familiar, so I did a little research on my phone to confirm my suspicions: Scallions had returned to the band in 2011. Fuel was back!
As the set went on, and every song came from the 1998-2003 era, I was transported back into high school. Sixteen-year-old Joe called; his head exploded. They put on a really good show, and I knew every word. The crowd sang along to a number of songs, not just “Shimmer,” which Scallions pointed out and thanked the crowd for. “You guys were on this s— back in 1995!” he said. Not all of us, but you’re welcome.
They closed with “Hemorrhage,” and when it was over I was practically giddy. I felt stupid about it; this was a band I listened to a decade and a half ago, and they’re by no means legends, but I was so surprised that the real singer was back that it made the experience 10 times better. There are few good surprises in life, and when one came along, however small, I was really happy to enjoy it.
(After the fact, I did a little more reading. Apparently Scallions is the only original member of the band who is in this incarnation of Fuel. The group was essentially dormant for a few years before Scallions and bassist Jeff Abercrombie kicked around the idea of linking up as “Re-Fueled” and touring again. Thank God that name didn’t stick. Guitarist and songwriter Carl Bell was not part of the process, and after Abercrombie decided against going out on tour, Scallions recruited new guys and forged ahead. They should have a new album out by the end of the year. You didn’t ask, but you’re welcome anyway.)
We spent the rest of the night at the bar before going for late-night cheesesteaks, because this is Philadelphia and that is what you do. It was the perfect ending to what unexpectedly turned into a great night.
As someone whose youth gets further away every day, I can’t accurately describe the feeling of recapturing a portion of it, even for just a couple hours, while still being reasonably grown up about it. Some people try to stave off adulthood by going out and getting drunk every weekend until they end up in jail. Some continue to skateboard into their 40s.
For us, we did it by enjoying good company, good music, and a good time. And I’ll take that combination any day of the week.