By no means would I refer to Third Eye Blind as a ‘nostalgia act’. They aren’t endlessly hitting the road, cashing in on just the hits to increasingly diminishing returns. They aren’t a band you go see ironically. And yet, there’s no way to view Third Eye Blind but as a nostalgic act. You cannot listen to a Third Eye Blind song and not think of 1997. It’s a proven fact and I won’t waste the time here with any kind of debate. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t even alive in 1997. That’s how strongly the two are associated with each other. When their self-titled debut album came out that summer, their singles were EVERYWHERE. Movie trailers. Shopping malls. All types of radio, from rock to alternative to top 40 had them on heavy rotation for most of the second half of the year. Their songs just sound like summer to a large portion of their fanbase.
And that’s when the cold, uncaring march of time crashes through the wall like an alternate timeline version of the Kool-Aid man who’s a massive bummer to everyone (would his catch phrase be “OHHH NOOOOO”?) and you realize that summer of 1997 was 25 years ago. That’s how long I’ve been strumming Jumper on guitar absentmindedly. That’s how long I’ve been practicing saying ‘doingcrystalmethwillliftyouupuntilyoubreak’ as fast as Stephen Jenkins every time Semi-Charmed Life comes on the radio. TWENTY FIVE YEARS of wondering if I was gonna get my punk-ass off the street (NOTE: I did. I think?).
However you look at it or measure that amount of time, the truth of the matter is that we are all now collectively in a long-term relationship with Third Eye Blind. It might have happened so subtlety over so long that you didn’t notice, but all the signs were there: spikes in rotation on your top playlists. Increased use of the 3EB t-shirt you got when you saw them in 2008. Frequent calls between Third Eye Blind and your parents. Sharing a life insurance policy. You know, the usual stuff.
The clearest sign that Third Eye Blind and their fans are still going strong after all these years? Selling out Chicago’s brand-spankin’ new 3,600 capacity concert venue without needing a new album to tour behind. And this is all a good thing! The best relationships of all time are long-term ones. But like all long-term relationships, there’s work that needs to go into keeping things running on all cylinders. Quality time is a big part of that, which is why we got treated to an entire evening with the band, with no opener. How sweet of them. After all these years, still making us feel like the only fans in the world.
Like all good relationships, there needs to be a good foundation. And the perfect literal foundation for this show was Chicago’s Salt Shed. Converted from an old Morton Salt factory, their outdoor concert space made its debut last summer. The new indoor space just opened in February and all the hype about the venue is true and then some. As much charm as Chicago’s live music crown jewels (Metro, Aragon, etc) will always have, it was a nice change of pace to have a super-modern space with modern amenities without having to go to an arena setting. There’s a general admission area for the regular Chicago meatballs out there, a fancy Premium GA area for fancy meatballs (probably the ones with the toothpicks that look like tiny swords), and a grandstand with padded seats in the back for us old meatballs. I’m sure it’s incredibly riveting for me to go on and on describing a venue you probably haven’t been to, so I’ll move on but I cannot recommend this place enough for anyone coming through Chicago. Or living in Chicago. Or named Chicago if your parents were either 1920’s gangsters or hated you.
High on the list of priorities for healthy long-term relationships? COMMUNICATION. Fortunately, that wasn’t much of a problem this evening. The connection between the band and its audience is as locked-in as ever, as there wasn’t a single song in the entire set that didn’t have the crowd singing along. Naturally, a lot of that connection comes from frontman Stephan Jenkins, switching seamlessly from playing the part of charismatic rock singer to self-deprecating jokester to a man truly humbled and thankful to be doing what he does after all these years as required.
What’s interesting is seeing how some of these songs have aged since they came out 25 years ago in the context of the band performing them. To a young go-hard twenty something, doing crystal meth until you break sounds like a challenge, but looking back now it sounds like a stark warning. Being ‘the first to fight and way too loud’ probably sounded like good ideas at the time. With another two and a half decades of experiences to look back on, there’s perhaps even more reason than ever to put the past away. It’s not even ‘How’s It Going To Be’ anymore, it’s more like ‘How It Currently Is’. Shit, some of us have moved on to the early stages of ‘How It Was’.
But somehow it all still works. The intent might have changed under different conditions, but the messages in these songs still resonate. No matter what decade it is, there’s always going to be a time when you’re pretty sure you can’t take anymore before taking a swing, etc. The themes that Third Eye Blind songs dip heavily into – love, hard living, sharp memories (and not necessarily pleasant ones) – are timeless enough that they’ll always seem relevant, but delivered in a way that seems like it was written just for you specifically for the time you’re listening to it.
They also just plain rock and that’s something that will most likely always be in style.
Communication is not the only key to maintaining a successful long-term relationship. You gotta keep things spicy! You gotta change things up! Variety being the spice of life and all that. And that’s what we got which made this feel like a real ‘An Evening With…’ and not just a shitty title a promoter slapped on a show where an opener couldn’t be arranged. In the middle of the show, the band delivered an 8 song acoustic set full of stripped-down versions of old favorites. Fitting, since the band released an album in 2022 that was full of acoustic covers of “any of our old songs we wanted another shot at” according to Jenkins. Not only was the change of pace in the middle of the show a pleasant surprise, but a bit of a risk for Jenkins who said he’d lost his voice in Canada the night before. Without any distorted guitars or a full kit of drums to hide any struggling vocals behind, Jenkins’ performance was on-point.
Another sign of a long-term relationship? Repeating the same jokes over and over again. Jenkins said that they’d scheduled their spring 2023 tour with the intention of having a new album to promote, but he just didn’t write the lyrics and the album never happened. I caught Third Eye Blind during their 2012 tour and I’m 99% sure he used that same line back then. So either he likes the comfort of that familiar joke or he’s the George RR Martin of the music world.
The most important factor in keeping a long-term relationship alive and healthy? Just plain having fun together. And the short version is that’s exactly what happened for the 3,600 in attendance from the first song of the night through the twenty sixth(!). There’s nothing wrong with letting your brain flip back to a less complicated time and thinking about the first time you heard Third Eye Blind which wasn’t difficult with the band playing a whopping nine tracks off that debut EP. And while Jenkins might be the only band member still around that played on that album, that’s all the band needs to stay a consistent experience. It’s like the old question about how if you replace every plank on a wooden ship over the time of it’s journey, is the one that arrives still the ‘same’ ship that left port.
Fortunately for us, Jenkins is the lone plank holding out almost three decades later, keeping the relationship (relationship?) between band and fans strong as ever.
It’s nice to see that he did indeed get his punk ass off the street.
Third Eye Blind’s North American tour runs through April 15.
Third Eye Blind Setlist – The Salt Shed, Chicago 4.1.23
Can You Take Me
The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down)
I Want You*
To The Sea*
Blinded (When I See You)*
Back To Zero*
Your Love (The Outfield cover)*
Motorcycle Drive By
Never Let You Go
Losing A Whole Year
The Dying Blood
God of Wine