The lights were dim and the disposable contact lenses I was wearing were way past the monthly recommended utilization period. Shawn and I had been standing for less than ten minutes and I could already feel my knee buckle from keeping my body weight on it. We were waiting for Alien Ant Farm to take the stage at Paper Tiger. It had been nearly two decades since I last saw them and though I was just as eager to sing along to “Movies,” all of my physical shortcomings were reminding me how old I am.
I turn to Shawn and ask her, “Is us watching Alien Ant Farm and Lit in 2018 the equivalent of our parent’s generation watching a band like Poison in 1997?”
“Who cares?” she says, reminding me why she’s the smart one in our relationship.
Minutes later, Alien Ant Farm took the stage and blasted me back to the year 2000. All the aches in my knee were gone, my contacts readjusted to the dim lighting and I was able to scream “And just like the movies, we play out our last scene!” at the top of my lungs.
Over the past few years or so, San Antonio has cultivated a niche for nostalgic acts of the late 90s and early 2000s. I know we’re not alone as the reunion set for festivals like ACL and Riot Fest has become so ubiquitous that it is often considered a punchline. No band ever really breaks up anymore, they just stop making music for a while until the demand is high and capitalize on the nostalgia factor. Hair metal band did it throughout the 90s as their fans were becoming old enough to start venturing out again while their kids played spin the bottle at high school parties.
What is interesting about Alien Ant Farm and Lit playing in San Antonio in 2018 is that these bands never actually broke up. They have maintained a pretty steady following over the past twenty years or so. While they may have never repeated the mainstream success they had at the turn of the century, their fan bases have been coming out in large numbers to support a show like this two decades later. Alien Ant Farm has maintained their alternative rock sound putting out several albums since their sophomore effort ANThology went platinum. Lit, on the other hand, has diverged into a more country rock sound that is echoes away from their Billboard charting A Place in the Sun but feels like a natural progression for where the band members are at in their life.
Also unlike the hair metal bands capitalizing on nostalgia in the 90s, both Alien Ant Farm and Lit looked relatively healthy. Granted there might be a little paunch here and there and the salt and pepper hair is setting in for the majority of the band, father time has been relatively good to both bands. More importantly, the show was a great opportunity to introduce old fans to a lot of their new stuff. They know most of us were there to hear the hits from their first albums and they spaced them out at just the right length while intermixing the newer songs. It was a breath of fresh air to hear a band not be jaded about the songs everybody wants to hear while not stressing so much on wanting to focus on new material.
At one point during Alien Ant Farm’s set, vocalist Dryden Mitchell nearly broke into tears discussing his mother, an undocumented immigrant, returning to Mexico. He didn’t say whether she was going back willingly or not, but regardless he mentioned it may be a long time before he sees her again. It was a somber moment that sucked the air out of the venue as he started into space seemingly attempting to hold back. There was profound sense of emotion reverberating as the crowd didn’t know whether to clap to cheer him up or give him a hug. He followed this up with the song “Attitude” which he said his mom declared as her favorite song.
The band continued along, ultimately ending with their biggest hit “Smooth Criminal,” the Michael Jackson cover. The one thing that really stood out to me with both bands is how they’ve probably played these songs close to a million times and yet they performed them like it was their first time sharing them with us. There was genuine level of excitement from the band that echoed throughout the Paper Tiger that night. When Lit closed their set out with “My Own Worst Enemy,” we all knew it was coming, but hearing that octave chord intro was just as exciting as it was hearing it on the radio.
By the end of the show, my voice was nearly gone, my knees were aching and if I’m not mistaken, my right contact rolled up into a little ball in my eyelid. I felt old again, but I didn’t mind as much. Both bands played masterfully and more importantly they looked as excited to be there as we were to see them. While ultimately, it doesn’t matter if going to a show like this in 2018 is like my parents going to a hair metal show in 1997 or not, I can say that both bands could have phoned it in and collected their paycheck but they didn’t. They put on one hell of a show that brought me back to being a preteen learning these songs on guitar and walking through the school halls blaring my walkman. If this is what getting old and seeing bands you loved as a kid is like, then I’m all in.