It was the last night of their tour with Tonic and Better Than Ezra.
It was a nostalgic night (Sun, Nov 7th) when Collective Soul headlined a three band set of heavy-hitting 90’s soft rockers at the Anthem in Washington, DC.
You know 90’s soft rock? The kind of angsty, nasal-vocaled, string-heavy symmetrical music produced mostly by self-contained bands. It’s the kind of genre that lives on in shopping malls, FYE stores and surviving Suncoast Video outposts. There’s enough there to make you go “hmm, interesting” but never enough to make you say “I have to have THAT track!”
And so it was that Collective Soul transcended their 90’s counterparts to become something of a cultural phenomenon. Lead singer Ed Roland took the stage at 9:15 in a bright, red-and-pink flower patterned blazer and suit pants. He bounded about the stage with inimitable energy. Raising his arms above his head as if beckoning the crowd to do the same was his signature move.
Physically unable to stand still, it seemed Roland needed to move with every strum of his guitar or thud of the drum behind him. A gentleman in the seat next to me leaned over and said “He’s being so damn indulgent.” But the truth is that Roland was having too much fun to notice if his ego was showing.
The night opened with sets from 90’s stalwarts Tonic and Better Than Ezra (BTE for short). Both groups were plagued by sound problems early on. My ever-opinionated seatmate said they sounded as if all the notes had been “mashed into one long sound.” Anthem is a warehouse-style general admission venue with a wide floorspace and high rafters. The floor was not full for the openers, and that may have led to the acoustic conundrums.
Griffin told stories between songs. However, some in attendance could not quite follow along due to the way the room was swallowing the sound, leading to some confusion.
Once Collective Soul took the stage, all the ills were forgotten. They plowed through a 15-song set that included “Who Loves,” “She Said,” “December,” and a nod to fellow Georgia-grown band R.E.M. with “The One I Love.”
As is their custom, Collective Soul played what is arguably their biggest hit, “Shine,” smack in the middle of their show. It was a show stopping opus with an outro that included more drum beats than one could count. The show ended with “Run,” after which both Tonic and BTE re-emerged for an acoustic reprise — the encore, of sorts.
See, some 90’s bands just rise above being that mall-browsing music. Some songs stick to our ribs. And Sunday night in DC, 90’s rock seemed to touch The Anthem’s collective soul.
*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article noted that some were concerned about BTE lead singer Kevin Griffin’s wellbeing. We have been assured by tour publicity that Mr. Griffin is well, and that any confusion was likely around his storytelling not being well-heard in the venue.