Third Eye Blind are a rock band. At least, they’re supposed to be. They look like a band. They sound like a band. Their Wikipedia page labels them as a band. But at this point, 20 years on from their debut album, Third Eye Blind are more or less a solo vehicle for frontman Stephan Jenkins.
It wasn’t always this way. When Third Eye Blind broke through with their masterful 1997 debut, they were a fourpiece: Jenkins on vocals, Kevin Cadogan on lead guitar, Arion Salazar on bass and Brad Hargreaves on drums. And the first time I saw Third Eye Blind, back at a July 4 festival show in 2009, then-guitarist Tony Fredianelli made almost as much of an impression as Jenkins. His riffs even kick-started the show.
But Jenkins has a bad habit of breaking things, at least when it comes to his band. Shortly after that July 2009 show, Jenkins fired Fredianelli. Fredianelli later sued Jenkins for denying him songwriting credits, a lawsuit that eventually earned him a jury award of more than $438,000. Needless to say, he, his noisy riffs and his explosive stage presence are no longer a part of the Third Eye Blind equation.
Fredianelli wasn’t even the first Third Eye Blind guitarist to battle Jenkins in court. That title belongs to Cadogan, who sued the band in the early 2000s alleging wrongful termination, withheld royalty payments and denied ownership of the band. The lawsuit was settled out of court and Cadogan hasn’t said a single good thing about Jenkins since.
That Jenkins is hard to work with is common music industry knowledge. Fortunately, that fact alone doesn’t have much effect on the quality of his shows. Leading up to this summer, I’d seen Third Eye Blind three times, with three notably different lineups. Even knowing what I know about Jenkins, those shows were enjoyable. Some musicians are assholes. That doesn’t mean we stop liking their music or discard the memories we have of their songs. On Third Eye Blind’s current Summer Gods Tour, though, Jenkins’s past misdeeds against his former band members are the proverbial elephant in the room.
The Summer Gods Tour is an anniversary tour, a live music trend I have already written about extensively for this very website. Deservedly, anniversary tours get some flak for being nostalgia cash-grabs, for being too predictable in terms of setlist creation, and for taking bands away from their new music. One issue I did not consider when writing my initial article on anniversary tours, though, is what happens when the band that made the album being celebrated has publicly fractured.
Third Eye Blind came out 20 years ago this past April. It’s an album that means a lot to me personally. From childhood radio sing-alongs to teenage heartbreaks, this record has been a big part of my life pretty consistently since “Semi-Charmed Life” blew up across the industry. It’s also why when the Summer Gods Tour was announced, I knew I wanted to go. The chance to hear songs like “Motorcycle Drive By” and “Losing a Whole Year” blast through an outdoor amphitheater on a muggy summer night was too enticing to pass up.
So on June 7, I caught the Summer Gods at Michigan’s DTE Energy Music Theatre with my brother and some of his friends. A few beers in, I sang and shouted along with the hits and let the memories wash over me during the ballads. During “Motorcycle Drive By” especially, it felt like every fan in the place was journeying back to a time when that song meant something deeply personal to them. You could tell from the vibe around the venue there was a lot of history in the air.
But there was something about the show that didn’t sit quite right with me. It didn’t really settle in until after the music stopped, after my buzz wore off and the excitement of seeing one of my all-time favorite albums performed live dissipated.
At best, anniversary concerts should be a celebration for the people both onstage and off. The people in the audience get to go back in time and revisit songs that played important roles in their personal life soundtracks. The people onstage get to go back in time and revisit songs they wrote and made with each other. Few things are as intimate as creating art together, and a great anniversary tour honors this fact. That’s what it was like on Springsteen’s River tour last year, and by many accounts that’s been the vibe with U2’s Joshua Tree tour this year.
But that’s not the vibe of the Summer Gods Tour. How could it be, when two of the guys who made the record aren’t there? Sure, Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici helped Springsteen make The River, and they weren’t present for his anniversary tour either. But Clemons and Federici passed away before they could complete the E Street Band narrative, and are still honored, loved and remembered at every E Street concert.
Kevin Cadogan and Arion Salazar are still very much alive, but they aren’t honored at Third Eye Blind shows. They’re remembered, certainly. It’s tough not to remember Cadogan, when his shoegaze-y lead guitar was arguably the factor that allowed Third Eye Blind to transcend ‘90s rock radio to become something darker, edgier and a little more cerebral. But they certainly aren’t honored by Jenkins, who seems like he would rather have everyone forget his former bandmates ever played a role in his legacy.
To his credit, Jenkins has made it clear that he sees the Summer Gods Tour as a “love letter” to fans. This tour is a one-time deal. Once this string of dates is up, Jenkins says the band will never play the self-titled record in full again. That’s a special thing. It was special to hear those songs again, to sing along with them with other people who love them as much as I did. It was special to go back in time to when I was seven and had no idea what “Semi-Charmed Life” was about, but sure knew how to sing along to the hook. It was special to hear a song as lonely and heartbreaking as “The Background” repurposed as a late-night summer sing-along. There were so many things about this show that I loved.
Still, it’s hard not to wonder how triumphant this tour would have been if Jenkins could have patched things up with Cadogan and Salazar. Those relationships are likely too broken to ever fix at those point. The two guys, along with Fredianelli, have even played a few of their own 2oth anniversary shows this year, going by the moniker XEB. (Drummer Brad Hargreaves, meanwhile, remains on Jenkins’s side of the divide.)
In the end, I guess it’s fitting the night rang truest when Jenkins sang “How’s It Going to Be,” the third single from Third Eye Blind and a one-time top 10 hit. “How’s it going to be / When you don’t know me anymore?” Jenkins bellowed during the song’s climactic section.
For just a second, it felt like he might have been talking to his old friends.
Catch Third Eye Blind on tour throughout the rest of the year in the U.S. and Europe.