There's always something profoundly depressing to me about seeing these kind of has-been groups still slugging it out (the same racetrack that's hosting these bands has already had Soul Asylum, Better Than Ezra, and the Gin Blossoms perform in the last year or so) in the trenches--enough of a name to be a draw, but only to people who want to hear them chug out their handful of hits and be done.
The saddest thing about these bands is that none of them--with the exception of Soul Asylum--were ever that good to begin with. The first Gin Blossoms album is great, and I have something of a soft spot for Better Than Ezra's Deluxe, but none of the others were anything more than second--or third--rate imitations. Seven Mary Three sounded like the stupidest parts of Pearl Jam (and were probably the first of the Shitty Pearl Jam Knockoffs that came to define "Modern Rock" radio, awful bands like Three Doors Down and Creed and Nickleback), while Sponge were like Stone Temple Pilots, only worse. And Marcy Playground...well, their first album wasn't the worst thing in the world, but that's hardly a glowing review.
Yet somehow all of these groups--again, with the exception of Soul Asylum--managed to have some big hits, but only one or two, and then were more or less forgotten in the great Post Grunge/Nu-Metal era, when a band as blatantly awful as Lit would be considered a cutting edge rock act. But none of them ever stopped making albums, despite more and more diminishing returns. And now they're playing free shows at racetracks and casinos and state fairs, taking the place of the dinosaur rock acts like Bachman Turner Overdrive and Foghat that usually play these kind of venues.
The thing that truly distresses me about these bands is the scent of failure that clings to them. And not only their own failures of talent or ability, but the failure of the whole early 90s rock movement. Bands that formed out of the crucible of the late 80s underground, that really took to heart what it was all about. Mark Lanegan likened it to being "in the late 60s, if the MC5 and the Stooges suddenly got to be the biggest bands in the world." And despite being a little too young to have been as affected by an album like Nevermind the way most people just a few years older than me were, being a kid when all this stuff was blowing up was nothing short of magical. It basically felt like the good guys had won, and things might be different somehow.
This was, naturally, a pretty stupid thing to think, and just a few short years later, it was obvious that the things that were good and challenging were having their edges sanded off and were being sold back in such a way that the greatest number of people would buy it. This is how things always happen and should have surprised no one. But that does nothing to stop the weird twinge of sadness and disappointment I feel when I happen to hear an old song or catch an old video and see young people so lost in themselves, full of a potential they will ultimately betray.