There was a time, back when this incoming class of college freshmen were being born, when the Gin Blossoms owned MTV and mainstream radio. Their first hit, “Hey Jealousy,” was near-universally attractive for its blend of the inescapably slick and the slightly desperate — the musical equivalent of the star quarterback spouting poetry or dancing spontaneously at a party.
The guy who wrote that hit, Douglas Hopkins, was booted out of the band for alcoholism before the group’s proper debut in 1992, and killed himself less than two years later. He’d also written the group’s second hit, “Found Out About You.” Their third, “Til I Hear It From You,” was a one-off from the movie soundtrack to “Empire Records,” belatedly released as the B-side to another Gin Blossoms single.
Yet for all that, the Gin Blossoms sound has been eminently reliable, in large part because their virtues, while legitimate, are fairly commonplace. Seemingly regardless of personnel changes or career arc, they can unearth a jangling pop-rock groove most often associated with The Byrds or REM, which can be amped into a punkish, “alt-rock” fervor, or settled back for midtempo comfort. The Arizona quintet would be a superb wedding band, and while that certainly damns them with faint praise, it is also a testimonial to their broad, inoffensive appeal.
The turmoil from Hopkins’ suicide didn’t prevent the group from turning in a second album, “Congratulations … I’m Sorry,” that rivaled their debut for taut interplay and song quality, but it still help short-circuit the band’s career. There was a 10-year hiatus — fatal for most groups — and yet it somehow wasn’t surprising that when the Gin Blossoms did return, with “Major Lodge Victory” in 2006, they came with popcraft and affable jangle well intact.
Now comes “No Chocolate Cake” another four years later, and fans will again recognize the formula; the song titles of the best tunes (“Don’t Change for Me,” “I Don’t Want to Lose You Now,” “Somewhere Tonight,” “Something Real”) themselves get at that mildly anthemic, slightly desperate ambiance, that hope-and-fear spark that kindles so much durable and yet disposable pop music.
Indeed, the most surprising aspect of this latest Gin Blossoms boomlet is their choice of venue over the next two nights — the funky elegance of the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant. The ticket price — $45 for each of two shows, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. — seems steep for a group that would seem equally in place playing for free in front of the Leinie Lodge at the State Fair later this week.
And yet, there are probably enough people who were caught up in the swirl of that Gin Blossoms cultural takeover in the early ’90s who want to hear the band they could only get in arenas and festivals back now up close and personal, wailing away on “Hey Jealousy” or “Til I Hear It From You” or even one of the airtight new nuggets from “No Chocolate Cake.” It will be like a glorious wedding reception, with a nudge of nostalgia to boot.
Here are Gin Blossoms performing “Hey Jealousy” on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” back in 1993.
Here is the group belting out “Follow You Down” at the Indianapolis speedway last May.
The Gin Blossoms, tonight and tomorrow night, August 25 and 26, at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, two shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m.; tickets are $45.