The annual Ellicottville Summer Music Festival came to a close Sunday, July 6 as ‘90s hit-makers the Gin Blossoms performed a solid, enthusiastic set to a respectably sized crowd gathered slope-side at Holiday Valley Resort.
Drawing from their extensive song catalog spanning over 25 years, our pain in the ass cousins from Tempe, Arizona, led by tambourine-wielding frontman Robin Wilson, delivered roughly 75 minutes of mid-tempo nostalgia-inducing rock ‘n’ roll hits. The multi-platinum selling quartet (which also consists of guitarist Jesse Valenzuela, bassist Bill Leen, guitarist Scotty Johnson and drummer Scott Hessel) kicked things off shortly after 9 p.m. with “Follow You Down,” the harmonica-laden Top 10 hit from their sophomore release Congratulations I’m Sorry. Wilson alternated between harmonica and vocals as he raised his hands over his head, encouraging the crowd to clap and sing along. From there the frontman led the Gin Blossoms into an well-constructed set of tambourine-driven power pop that focused heavily on material from their 1992 mainstream breakthrough, New Miserable Experience, and most recent effort, 2010’s No Chocolate Cake. As the night went on, we were also treated to “As Long As It Matters” from 1996’s Congratulations I’m Sorry and “Learning the Hard Way” from 2006’s Major Lodge Victory.
The band plowed through hit after hit with well-oiled precision and a well-defined stage presence. Wilson proved to be a more than capable frontman, quickly engaging the crowd by tapping his tambourine over his head while encouraging everyone to clap and sing along. He worked his trademark stage instrument for most of the night, frequently handing out extra tambourines to enthusiastic fans that were more than happy to shake along with him. At one point as he ventured off stage to sing with the crowd and high-five the front row, Wilson even sang into a fan’s iPhone. Guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Scotty Johnson traded solos all night, with each showcasing his own guitar riffs prowess throughout the friendly sparring match. The band's driving backbone, the strong and aggressive rhythm section of Bill Leen on bass and Scott Hessel on drums, acted as an anchor to the dueling axe-masters and Wilson's recognizable vocals.
The set ended with “’Til I Hear it From You” from the Empire Records soundtrack and their jangly signature hit “Hey Jealousy,” arguably two of the Gin Blossom’s biggest hits – both of which had the entire crowd singing and dancing along. After a brief exit, the band returned to the stage to close out. Putting an exclamation mark on this year’s Ellicottville Summer Music Festival, Gin Blossoms turned out a terrific rendition of The Plimsouls’ “Now” as part of a rousing encore which also included “Competition Smile” from the band’s 1996 disc Congratulations I’m Sorry.
Toward the end of the set, Robin handed yours truly a tambourine – something I had been not-so-secretly hoping would happen since the first time I saw the Gin Blossoms perform live. I won’t lie; I was more than a few drinks in by that point so as far as I was concerned it was my moment to shine. No, I didn’t jump on stage and join the band – but I did shake roll the hell out of that tambourine. I think it’s safe to say that mid-‘90s Jillian is quite jealous of present day Jillian. I also think my best friend and I tried to hold the tambourine for ransom later on that night, unsuccessfully I might add, but that’s neither here nor there. In all seriousness, thank you Robin for giving me the opportunity to cross “jam on the tambourine with Gin Blossoms” off my concert bucket list.
Follow You Down
Don't Change for Me
As Long as It Matters
Found Out About You
Until I Fall Away
Learning the Hard Way
Dead or Alive on the 405
Wave Bye Bye
‘Til I Heart It From You
Now (The Plimsouls cover)
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