HOLMDEL, N.J. In a music scene dominated by teen pop, misogynist rap-metal and hip-hop, San Francisco quartet Third Eye Blind are one of the few young bands dedicated to delivering an old-fashioned rock spectacle.
With plenty of guitar power chords, blinding light displays and the unbridled showmanship of lead singer Stephan Jenkins, the band did just that Saturday night at the PNC Bank Arts Center.
Sporting a top hat, carrying a walking stick and wearing gray leather pants, the 36-year-old Jenkins was first glimpsed by the audience through a lone spotlight that captured him perched on a riser at the top of the stage.
Flashing a wicked grin, he looked like the crazed Malcolm McDowell character, Alex, in director Stanley Kubrick's "portrait of a madman" classic "A Clockwork Orange."
"The problem with these big concerts is it's very hard to get close to each other," Jenkins told the crowd during "Narcolepsy" (RealAudio excerpt), from Third Eye Blind's 1997 quadruple-platinum eponymous debut. "And that's what we came here to do. We should turn this whole thing into a big, sweaty pit."
A Crowd Favorite
With those words, Jenkins ran around the edges of the venue, followed closely by bouncers shining flashlights on him, and parked himself behind a microphone stand smack in the middle of the amphitheater. He then broke into the Ramones' classic "I Wanna Be Sedated," as he suggestively writhed in place.
"I'm in love with Stephan Jenkins," screamed 18-year-old college student Daria D'Italia. "I have a picture of him in my dorm room at Harvard. His breathing is orgasmic."
Third Eye Blind dipped into both of their albums equally, though the tour is named "The Red Summer Sun" tour in honor of a track from their 1999 sophomore effort, Blue.
"This time is the summertime of your life," Jenkins told the mostly teenage and twentysomething audience during the dramatic track, as he stood before a huge levitating orange-red mask meant to resemble the face of the sun. "It will not last, my friends. But these days, they're not over yet."
Jenkins then launched the band into the hypnotic "Losing a Whole Year," with slicing guitar licks from Tony Fredianelli, an original member of Third Eye Blind who only recently reunited with the band for this tour. Though the band in January fired guitarist Kevin Cadogan, who played on Third Eye Blind's two albums, his absence went unmentioned Saturday and none of the bandmembers was introduced.
Bassist Arion Salazar and drummer Brad Hargreaves were the only other musicians onstage. They were a dependable rhythm section as Fredianelli offered blistering solos and Jenkins preened while prancing up and down the stairs at the stage's sides during the recent hit "Never Let You Go" (RealAudio excerpt) and the salacious "1000 Julys."
Band Explores Central Topic
"Feral days and I'm sex crazed/ I put it in with my animal ways ... when you let me in it's like a thousand Julys," Jenkins sang as multicolored confetti blanketed the stage.
Sex is the band's dominant theme, as evidenced by Blue's "10 Days Late," about the implications of a loved one's missed menstrual period, and "I Want You," a paean to a woman of whom Jenkins can't get enough.
Third Eye Blind's 1997 smash "Semi-Charmed Life" (RealAudio excerpt), an ode to crystal meth-fueled oral gratification, ended the main set, as Jenkins hoisted a youngster from the front rows on his shoulders and weaved in a verse of the Who's "teenage wasteland" classic "Baba O'Riley."
The 20-minute encore included the hit "Graduate," the beautiful new single "Deep Inside of You," and the majestic "God of Wine," from the debut LP.
"Playing live, this is the real sh--," Jenkins told the crowd. "Traveling around the world with three of your best friends and making music. ... The most profound thing for us is that you, the fans, have made this music your own."
"All of their songs connect with you, like good stories," 17-year-old Morristown resident Julie Gussoni said.
Washington, D.C., pop rockers Vertical Horizon, riding high on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time with "Everything You Want" (RealAudio excerpt), warmed up the crowd with nine of the 11 tracks from their platinum-selling major-label debut of the same name.
Lead singer Matt Scannell, who developed Vertical Horizon for eight years with guitarist Keith Kane, grinned from ear to ear as the crowd sang along with their songs. Scannell engagingly sang infectious, R.E.M.-inspired rockers such as "We Are" (RealAudio excerpt) and their next single, "You're a God." But his stage presence was dwarfed by the magnetism of Jenkins, one of current rock's most gifted showmen.