Indie may have gone mainstream in recent years, but it’s foolish to ignore the fact that the Decemberists’ and Animal Collective’s alternative forebears were really just indie kids with significant frat appeal. Take Local H, who play at the Rock & Roll Hotel on May 16: The duo’s success peaked with the 1998 album Pack Up the Cats, which produced the hit single “All the Kids Are Right.” But the group has found steady work over the last dozen years, producing three albums and earning a band-of-the-year accolade from the Chicago Tribune in 2008. With its label Shout! Factory, Local H is in strangely good company: The label is also responsible for bringing ’90s cult TV shows like My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks to audiences on DVD.
Speaking of TV shows about awkward adolescents, They Might Be Giants are probably best known for “Boss of Me,” the theme of Malcolm in the Middle. But the group was totally forward-thinking back in 1992 with the album Apollo 18, which took advantage of CD players’ shuffle feature. “Fingertips” worked as a full song when the tracks were played in order; on random, the song would play as 21 snippets interspersed between the other songs. Uh, cool? Presumably, They Might Be Giants won’t shuffle its setlist when it plays Rams Head Live on June 1.
How’s this for ’90s-rocker cred? Lemonheads (Black Cat, June 12) frontman Evan Dando used to be an item with Winona Ryder, who was once notorious for dating unkempt musicians rather than for shoplifting. Dando also appeared in the ultimate Gen-X slacker film, Reality Bites, which featured Ryder and Ethan Hawke. Ryder also dated Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows (Aug. 9, Wolf Trap Filene Center), himself no stranger to notoriety in his personal life: Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, and now Emmy Rossum are among his lady friends—Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him” could’ve been presciently penned for the pudgy, dreadlocked rocker.
Thanks to Toad the Wet Sprocket (Birchmere, May 27 and 28), eccentric, animal-invoking band names are no longer just the province of obscure ’70s prog. The group achieved fame with the hits “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean,” and the group seems content leaving its legacy undiluted: Toad the Wet Sprocket hasn’t recorded a studio album since 1997. While its name isn’t sourced from a Monty Python bit, Crash Test Dummies had no problem laying on the WTF—hence, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.” VH1 and Rolling Stone have since placed it on the “50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever” and “20 Most Annoying Songs” lists, respectively.
Like alternative, ska—third wave ska, if we’re being technical—is another quintessentially ’90s genre. Born in Orange County, Reel Big Fish was ridiculing unfortunate hairstyles a good decade before Vice with the 1994 album Return of the Mullet. Reel Big Fish is touring ’90s-style, too, headlining the Vans Warped Tour (Merriweather Post Pavillion, July 20) with fellow SoCal natives Pennywise, a group that seems to be much more popular in Australia. If you’re lucky, the skate-punkers may cover Men at Work’s “Down Under.”
Undoubtedly, the most commercially successful example of the skate-punk genre is the Offspring. Hailing from Huntington Beach, Calif., the group made one of the ’90s’ most regrettable anthems, “Pretty Fly For a White Guy.” The band performs with 311 at the D.C. area’s most regrettably named venue, Jiffy Lube Live, on July 26.
If there was a bridge between alternative and nü-metal, it was 311, but next comes Korn, which was, ahem, pioneering in one other way: It had a weekly online TV show in 1998, eight years before Washington City Paper had blogs. Korn plays with Rob Zombie, the White Zombie frontman who struck out on his own in 1998 with the album Hellbilly Deluxe, at Jiffy Lube Live on Aug. 8.
Of course, if you grew up in D.C. in the early ’90s, then you’re that much better for being around for Unrest, the scrappy, adventurous, and hooky indie-pop act that formed in Arlington in the mid-’80s. Unrest was a flagship band of the local TeenBeat Records, which is staging a 26th anniversary minitour with Versus, the Rondelles, and Bossanova. Nostalgic pop nerds take their revenge July 10 at the Black Cat.
Crash Test Dummies
Sun. 5/16, Jammin’ Java, 8 p.m., $20
Sun., 5/16, Rock & Roll Hotel, 8:30 p.m., $12-$15
Toad the Wet Sprocket
Thu. 5/27 & Fri. 5/28, Birchmere, 7:30 p.m., $35
They Might Be Giants
Sat. 6/12, Rams Head Live, 1 p.m., $25
Fri., 6/12, Black Cat, 9 p.m., $15
Unrest, Versus, the Rondelles, and Bossanova
Sat., 7/10, Black Cat, 9:00 p.m., $15
Vans Warped Tour with Reel Big Fish and Pennywise
Tue., 7/20, Merriweather Post Pavilion, 11 a.m., $32.75-$40
311 and the Offspring
Fri., 7/26, Jiffy Lube Live, 6:30 p.m., $37-$52
KORN and Rob Zombie
Sun., 8/8, Jiffy Lube Live, 2:15 p.m., $31-$69.50
Mon., 8/9, Wolf Trap Filene Center, 8 p.m. Call for price.
Fri. 5/14, Black Cat
Fri. 5/21, Rock & Roll Hote1, 10 p.m. $16
Devin the Dude
Fri. 5/21, Rock & Roll Hote1, 10:30 p.m. $18
Fri. 5/28 & Sat. 5/29, DAR Constitution Hall, 8 p.m., $56-$76
Thu. 6/17 & Fri. 6/18, Verizon Center, 7 p.m., $33-$188
Fri. 6/25 & Sat. 6/26, Birchmere, 7:30 p.m., $59.50
Bel Biv Devoe
Thu. 7/17, Birchmere, 7:30 p.m., $45