Photos and review by: Jason Robey
SCOTTSDALE, AZ — The BLK Live venue, in Scottsdale, AZ set the scene for an intimate evening of alternative rock, as the Detroit veterans of the ’90s rock radio, Sponge, brought their “Under the Influence” tour for a stop on Wednesday night.
The night started with a short set by local group, Not Confined. The young group brought a modern twist to classic 80s-style punk rock, in the vein of groups like The Misfits and Bad Religion. Their cover of “Neat Neat Neat,” by The Damned was the perfect complement to raw originals, like “Dead Reputation,” as vocalist Bailey Pyritz, bounced around the stage with energy as untamed as the music.
Following a short break, Phoenix rock group, Thoughts Like Rockets, brought their modern rock power to the growing audience. Vocalist, Andrew Millet led the four-piece through a 45-minute set, made up mostly of originals from their debut album, Blastoff and new EP, Worlds Collide. They did take a chance to get the audience singing along with a familiar cover of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie‘s Girl.“ As the band rocked through infectious tunes like “Jealous,” and “American Dream,” guitarist Jason Merkin and bassist Austin Johnson jumped around the small stage to the beat of the drummer Marty Zurn’s solid rhythm. Thoughts Like Rockets closed their set with the title track from Worlds Collide, to the sound of cheering from the now nearly-full room, guaranteeing they picked up some new fans this evening.
Tonight’s show was forced inside of the venue, due to recent storms in the Phoenix area, causing the stage set up to be scaled back to fit in a small indoor space at the venue. All three bands shared Sponge drummer, Billy Adams’ kit, which sat on an eight-inch riser off the ground. The rest of the band members would be on floor, with stage monitors creating a pseudo-boundary between the room and musicians.
As the room filled in, the excitement grew for Sponge’s return to the Phoenix Valley, where they have loyal fans, excited to see the group in such an intimate space. The house music turned into a tribal drum track, as the group took their places and guitarist Kyle Neely started the opening licks of “Wax Ecstatic,” the title track of their 1996 sophomore album. Vocalist Vinnie Dombroski strutted and slinked his way around the stage as they took the set through a pair of tracks from the 1994 debut, Rotting Piñata including the single, “Molly,” and the title track.
The odd setup of the room gave the band an opportunity to get close to the crowd and interact in ways they wouldn’t normally be able. Several times throughout the evening, guitarist Andy Patalan pulled his phone out to broadcast portions of the show live, via Facebook, and Dombroski walked into the crowd, leaned over tables and sang face-to-face with fans. At one point, when he half-jokingly said they’d take requests, someone in the crowd, as if by obligation, shouted, “play Free Bird.” Vinnie said they opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd once, and people were shouting to them, “play Plowed,” referring to Sponge’s biggest radio hit.
Since the band broke onto the scene in 1994, at the height of grunge and alternative rock on radio and MTV, they have released eight studio albums, most of which were represented in the evening’s set list, though the band’s material from the 90s received most of the stage time. One fun highlight was when they performed a cover of the theme from Speed Racer, which they had recorded in 1996 for the Saturday Morning Cartoons compilation album, featuring several bands of that time performing their favorite cartoon theme songs.
Throughout the evening, fans shouted out requests, mostly for lesser-known and lesser-played Sponge songs. Dombroski commented on that more than once, saying “you guys really like the deep-cuts.“ In contrast to that sentiment, the room went wild when the familiar feedback screamed from Neely’s guitar, to kick off “Plowed,“ which ended with a long refrain of the song’s chorus, “in a world of human wreckage.“ Had this show been on a more traditional stage, the band would have walked off at this point, to be cheered back onto the encore. As this tour is called “Under the Influence,“ each night they are featuring a song by one of the bands that influenced them. Tonight, that song was The Ramones’ punk classic, “I Wanna Be Sedated,“ sending the crowd into a frenzy of screaming and dancing.
Catch Sponge live on tour and festivals across the country through October.