Ch-ch-ch-changes: A 90s music festival in 2015

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Friday was my birthday. Saturday was Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo’s birthday. And, on Saturday, I saw Rivers celebrate his birthday as Weezer headlined Burlington’s Sound of Music Festival kick-off show, a day also highlighted by performances from a couple of other bands that exploded in the 90s: Collective Soul and Our Lady Peace. Needless to say, it was a day ripe with nostalgia for a guy who was 20-ish when all these bands hit.

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Collective Soul

My best friend throughout the 90s was a girl named Kris. She’s a crazy person, in the best of ways. We met in high school and bonded over baseball and music and laughter and sarcasm and bowling and just plain talking and listening. She did most of the talking, I did most of the listening. Classic extrovert-introvert relationship. But I liked it that way. And knowing her so well made me feel more comfortable opening up to her about whatever was on my mind. People always assumed we were dating, or wondered why we weren’t, but we never did. And never wanted to. It was perfect just the way it was. We were great for each other during that time in our lives. Though we don’t see each other much these days, when we do get together, even if a year has passed it feels like a day. We’re right back in the same rhythms.

What does this have to do with Collective Soul? I’d been a casual fan of theirs in the 90s. I liked their radio hits, but that was it. But Kris was a massive fan, so whenever they came to Toronto, I was there with her. We probably saw them three or four times together and they always put on a solid live show. Their hits had people bouncing and swooning, the front man, Ed Roland, was engaging.

And, being the guitar nerd I am, I always had my eyes on the two guitar players. I was always hypnotized by their lead player, Ross Childress. He always played PRS guitars, he had long, straight hair and he had this way about him, this weird kind of grace in the way he slinked around the stage and gracefully pulled his arm away from the guitar after strumming a chord or while letting a note sustain. I don’t know if he was high or entranced by the music or what, but it was fascinating to watch.

And then there was Dean Roland, Ed’s brother and the band’s rhythm player. One time at the Kool Haus or Warehouse, or whatever it was called at the time, I saw him playing this Les Paul that immediately became my dream guitar. It was a red wine colour with cream pickguard and details. I’d never seen one like it. Can a guitar have depth of beauty? A really deep, soulful beauty? Because this one did to me.

Flash forward to Saturday. They put on a fun little set, loaded with hits, plus a few new songs that weren’t half bad. A couple of them were quite good, actually, could’ve easily slipped in to their 90s catalogue. Ed’s hair was shorter and greyer, but he still put on a good show in his white suit, like the southern gentleman he is. Early in the set the 51-year-old joked, “We’re Collective Soul. And we’re all 20-something.”

But was it a joke? For me, it felt like the point of this day of 90s nostalgia was to feel 20-something again. It probably was for them, too.

But there was something that told me as much as we wanted to feel 20-something again, we weren’t. Things were different now. And I’m not just talking about the grey in Ed’s hair. First of all, Ross was always on the right side of the stage back in the day. This time, Dean was there, when he’d always been on the left. And the guy now on the left wasn’t playing a PRS and didn’t have long hair or trippy arm movements. It wasn’t Ross. I’ve since learned he left the band way back in 2001.

And Dean. I was ecstatic to see that he’d brought that deeply beautiful guitar along with him. It was great to see her again. Truly, it was like seeing an old friend after all these years, a friend that often pops into my mind. Sound familiar? But unlike Kris, something had changed. Assuming it’s the same guitar and not a look-alike, he had placed two straight, cream-coloured lines below the bridge, like a number 11. Stickers? She was still beautiful, but not quite the same – a reminder that things happen, things change. As much as we change on the outside, like Ed’s hair and the grey making its presence known in mine as well, we’re still the same inside.

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Our Lady Peace

My cousins, Dave and Mike, were much bigger OLP fans than I was. Like with Collective Soul, I enjoyed their hits, but never bought any of their music or listened to an album straight through. But I saw them two or three times at festivals in the 90s. They always seemed to be either headlining or co-headlining Edgefest, an annual celebration of mostly Canadian rock each July. And I saw them in a festival-like show Alanis Morissette put on during peak Jagged Little Pill mania – when she had Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins behind the kit!

During the show on Saturday, Dave was reminiscing, in the spirit of My Shuffled Life, about his own OLP-inspired memories, what he was doing or where he was while listening to various OLP songs. I love hearing about other people’s “shuffled lives.”

But here’s something we all couldn’t get over, and maybe you can see in the side-screen photo I snapped: Unlike Ed Roland, OLP front man Raine Maida still looks exactly the same! So… to follow the logic I concluded in the Collective Soul section, does that mean he’s changed on the inside? (I kid… or do I?). But his voice sounded just as good – especially during a surprise interpretation of Lana Del Ray’s “Summertime Sadness.”

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For Weezer, I shoved the reminiscing aside and just really enjoyed the moment. This was, I think, my seventh time seeing them and you kind of get to know what to expect – which is the unexpected. It seems to depend on Rivers’ mood. Sometimes he’s goofy and playful. Sometimes he just stands there kind of stoically. We got the latter Rivers for the most part last night. In fact, he delegated singing duties for a few songs off to the other guys. But the set list was so strong – a mix of new songs and hits – that the energy level felt as high as I’ve ever felt it at a Weezer show. We sang our lungs out from start to finish.

And the crowd seemed far friendlier than any other festival-type crowd I’ve experienced. Back at those Edgefest shows in the 90s, I grew to despise the festival atmosphere. A bunch of drunk kids in their late teens and early 20s throwing bottles and food, obnoxiously pushing people aside in a hurry to get to the mosh pit. Some of those same people could’ve been at this show, but it’s 17 years later. Everyone seemed happy. Even if they were a little tipsy.

An ecstatic girl politely asked me if she could take a picture of my goofy “Weerez” t-shirt. A guy wanted to get around us and politely asked, “Sorry, can we get by?” rather than the 1998 version, who would’ve shoved us aside.

So maybe we do change on the inside. For the better.

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