Story and Photos: Spencer Fleming
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Now back to the story....
Friday night (6/24) Harrah's Stir Cove was rocking with the sounds of the 90s! The Last Summer on Earth Tour, one of the biggest throwback packages of the year made a stop in Council Bluffs, IA to a sea of fans ready to party like it was 1999.
Headlined by Barenaked Ladies with support from Gin Blossoms and Toad The Wet Sprocket, the show was three years in the making. The bands were supposed to come through in 2020, then again in 2021. Out an abundance of caution the tour was postponed one more time until this summer.
For most shows I get to the venue shortly after the doors open, but for this one I had a special mission. If you're not already aware the Shadow Ridge Music Festival is coming to West Omaha on September 9. This year's festival is headlined by hometown heroes 311 along with some legendary 90s acts Lit and Eve 6. Shadow Ridge graciously sponsored us so we could print some mini-booklets including information about their festival, Stir Cove info, Maha Festival, and a bunch of pictures we've taken so far this year.
My oldest son and I arrived well before the doors opened to talk to fans and hand out booklets. Surprisingly we were met with a great response. The 90s alternative crowd was psyched to learn about the Shadow Ridge Festival coming up and the chance to see more of their favorite bands.
After passing out the booklets it was time to get our credentials and prepare to shoot photos. On our way to the will call booth my son and I ran into Robin Wilson from the Gin Blossoms! Talk about great timing. I've had the pleasure of meeting Robin the last two times the Gin Blossoms played here and he's just the best. He gave my son Phoenix a guitar pick and we wished him well. He was getting on phone call and we didn't want to hold him up.
After arriving at will call the staff uttered the saddest thing any photographer never wants to hear, "you're shooting from the soundboard". Without the cushy spot of the photo pit it was time to find a way to grab some decent shots while also keeping clear and not blocking any fans' views. Just as we were on a high from meeting Robin we were met with the setback of no photo pit, then it started to rain! Man, things were turning sour fast. We huddled under the porta-potty area and tried to stay as dry as possible.
The concert gods shined upon us and the rain subsided! We actually got pretty lucky with the weather. Things went from an outlook of 95 degrees to a nice 80 degrees after the rain cooled things down.
The first band up was Toad The Wet Sprocket. I was really excited to see these guys. I have vivid memories of getting their seminal 1991 album Fear in the mail from Columbia House when they used to do those 12 albums for a penny deals. For those of you who grew up in the 90s, did you ever pay back any of those CD costs? I feel like my family signed up for them a couple times and I don't know what ever happened to the final bill. Maybe my parents paid it or something. If that's the case, thanks mom and dad!
Despite the setback of having their guitarist benched because of COVID, Toad did a mighty fine job warming up the crowd. Their young guitar tech stepped in and the band didn't miss a beat. With a bag of hits including "Something's Always Wrong", "All I Want", "Is It For Me", "Fall Down", "Crazy Life", and of course the smash "Walk On The Ocean" everything sounded amazing. If you can believe it Toad actually released a new album last year, Starting Now. Good for them for going strong for over 30 years.
Next up was one of my all-time favorite bands, Gin Blossoms. This band has so many hits they could've played straight top ten singles for their whole set and no one would've blinked. Instead, Robin and the boys mixed things up with a cut from their last release Mixed Reality, and two deeper cuts "As Long As It Matters" and "My Hands Are Tied". The band was on fire with their perfect harmonies and jangly power-pop classics.
Towards the end of the set the crowd participation was at an all time high as Robin led the sing-along of "Hey Jealousy". It's got to be a cool feeling when you can take a step back and let the crowd take over since they know the song by heart. As the band closed out with my favorite song of all time (Not just talking Gin Blossoms song, like, probably my favorite song ever written) "Til I Hear It From You" I stepped into my happy place time machine. After the set Robin signed a cool white tambourine and handed it to a younger fan in the front row. Again, the best dude around.
As the crew set up for Barenaked Ladies a few drops of rain were felt. I got nervous we were going to get soaked again. Luckily the weather held off and the band arrived to claps and smiles all around.
I remember the first time I ever heard Barenaked Ladies. This memory is a little hazy, but I seem to recall they were on The CW (formerly the WB) doing some kind of promotion for their song "The Old Apartment" because it was going to be featured on a Dawson's Creek episode. I'll admit, I didn't really understand it back then. Much like The B52s, my appreciation for weirdness in music hadn't fully developed.
I can understand now why Barenaked Ladies have such mass appeal. They're upbeat, Canadian (so they're nice, eh?), and they write great pop hits! In a bold move the band opened with a brand new song "New Disaster" from their latest release Detour De Force which just released this year. Yes, they're still writing hits! As I listened to the pop grooves I noticed Barenaked Ladies share some similarities to the band America. The hippy-dippy "ooh ooh whoas" and the solid driving rhythms match up quite well.
After getting a new song out of the way it was time for some hits including "It's All Been Done" and "Summertime". After that the band did a custom rap about Omaha/Council Bluffs. I think this is something they do for every city, looking at the setlist online it says "local rap". Still, pretty cool!
As the night pressed on the band did a solid mix of new songs, old songs, medleys, and even a Traveling Wilburys cover. For a band that's been playing since the late 80s a 24 song set is most impressive. As the air cooled down the sold out crowd enjoyed one of the best outdoor shows of the year so far. I'm glad I was there to catch it.
A huge thanks to Stir Cove for setting up photo access!
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