Scott Johnson - guitar, background vocals; Bill Leen - bass, background vocals; Phillip Rhodes - percussion, drums, background vocals; Jesse Valenzuela - guitar, vocals; Robin Wilson - acoustic guitar, vocals
Several years after forming in Tempe, Arizona in 1987, Gin Blossoms had earned a reputation as one of the finest live bands in the state and guitarist Doug Hopkins was being recognized as a gifted songwriter. This led to an invitation to perform at Austin's South by Southwest Music Festival in 1989, which in turn led to extensive bookings on the college circuit, where the band rapidly developed legions of fans. They independently released their first album, Dusted, that same year to little fanfare, but by the end of the year the College Music Journal deemed them the best unsigned band in America.
By the dawn of the 1990s, numerous personnel changes had occurred, but the lineup had solidified around the core of Hopkins, lead vocalist Robin Wilson and bass player Bill Leen, with guitarist Jesse Valenzuela and drummer Phillip Rhodes fleshing out the lineup. Although Hopkins was the most accomplished, everyone in the group was now capable of songwriting and the band was becoming increasingly popular. This eventually led to an invitation to perform on MTV's New Music Awards and this exposure caught the attention of the major labels.
After signing with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss's A&M label, the band set about recording its first major label album. Less than satisfied with the results, an EP of the strongest material was released instead in 1991, aptly titled Up and Crumbling. While soldiering on to create the definitive full length album the following year, Hopkins became increasingly despondent and descended into the depths of alcoholism, much to the dismay of A&M, who had invested heavily in the band. Facing the threat of being terminated from the label, the group let Hopkins go, recruited Scott Johnson as his replacement and completed the album, released in August of 1992 as New Miserable Experience, with Hopkins' "Hey Jealousy" issued as the debut single. Despite never hitting the top 20, this song would experience massive airplay and chart longevity. Fueled by the success of this single and its follow up, the moodier "Found Out About You" (also penned by Hopkins), the album took off and would become a multi-platinum hit. Tragically, Hopkins' suicide the following year would cast a pall over the band's achievements, right when the group was taking off.
It would be another four years before the band delivered the highly anticipated follow-up, but in 1996 the aptly titled Congratulations, I'm Sorry finally arrived, yielding a top 10 hit with "Follow You Down," a songwriting collaboration between the entire band and another hit collaborative effort, "As Long As It Matters," which would earn the group a Grammy nomination.
Armed with plenty of strong material, the vast majority of it culled from the two A&M albums, and now a solid and seasoned performing band with a charismatic lead singer in Wilson, it was the most promising time in the band's career. Although the group would go their separate ways the following year, the three-month college tour that followed the release of Congratulations, I'm Sorry is widely considered to be the group at their peak on stage. The King Biscuit Flower Hour was on hand to capture this moment in time when Gin Blossoms headlined a triple bill at the Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University. Various highlights from this performance were broadcast nationwide and two songs were officially issued as live bonus tracks on the aforementioned "As Long As It Matters" single, but presented here is the entire unedited recording, exactly as it happened that memorable night.
Fans of the Congratulations, I'm Sorry album are sure to be delighted as the band performs tight, high energy readings of nearly the entire album here, beginning strong with the rockers "Highwire" and "Day Job." Highlights of the new album material also include their great songwriting collaboration with Marshall Crenshaw, "Til I Hear It From You;" two of Valenzuela's most memorable compositions, "Virginia" and "I Can't Figure You Out;" the hard rockin' "Whitewash"(one of the tracks from this show issued on the "As Long As It Matters" single); and "Memphis Time," which the band would play on Saturday Night Live just a few days after this performance. Another standout, especially in terms of lead singer Wilson, is the lovely ballad "As Long As It Matters."
The band's most popular album, New Miserable Experience is also well represented with several great Hopkins songs like "Found Out About You," "Hold Me Down" (co-written with Wilson) and of course, "Hey Jealousy," in addition to a pair of strong Valenzuela songs, "Mrs. Rita" and "Hands Are Tied."
The tail end of the show also includes Wilson delivering a humorous a capella ditty in tribute to the drinking establishment from The Simpsons, "Flaming Moe's," and the band closes the set with a cooking cover of Tom Petty's "I Need To Know." One last standout performance, the "Allison Road" encore, may be familiar to Gin Blossom collectors, as this was the other song from this show issued on the "As Long As It Matters" single.
Although airchecks of the KBFH broadcasts have been bootlegged ubiquitously, presented here is the entire unedited (and uncensored) master recording in pristine quality, capturing Gin Blossoms near their peak, just as it went down that night back in March of 1996.
-Written by Alan Bershaw