SALT LAKE CITY — Branden Campbell did not want to like “Dookie.”
The bassist for Utah band Neon Trees was 19 years old when Green Day’s third album became a major hit. It was 1994. Campbell remembers hearing it for the first time while on the floor of the bedroom he and his younger brother shared.
“It was just a great record,” Campbell said. “It was undeniable. I grew up loving the Ramones, and I heard a lot of that in there. It was very melodic, but simple and raw at the same time.”
’94 was a good year for Green Day: “Dookie” spawned three of the band’s biggest songs — “Welcome To Paradise,” “Basket Case” and “When I Come Around” — and carved a place for punk music on pop radio. But it was also a good year for pretty much every music genre, and it'll be celebrated Sept. 7 at “I’m a Loser, Baby: A 1994 Mixtape,” the final show of Provo’s Rooftop Concert Series season.
Campbell and a slew of Utah musicians compose the show’s backing band. Various local singers will take the stage that night to helm some of 1994’s most memorable songs.
Rooftop Concert organizers set aside one concert slot each summer for a tribute show; previous tributes include the Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac. The core members of the tribute band mostly stay the same, with little fluctuations each year, since they started doing tribute shows in 2011. For many of them, the early ’90s were their teenage years, and these songs left a mark.
“You learn these songs, and you realize the essence of a simple song. Like, three or four chords,” Campbell said. “And these bands had big hits, and songs that were important for their career, that were so simple. And as a songwriter, you have to remember that. To me, that’s one of my favorite things about doing these shows is that it’s a reminder that you don’t have to overthink it.”
The tribute concert has also made its musicians revisit songs they’d purposely forgotten. Case in point: Soundgarden’s 1994 mega-hit “Black Hole Sun,” which spent most of that summer atop the mainstream rock chart and MTV.
“And I avoided that song for 20 years,” Campbell admitted. “I’d heard it a gazillion times, and now listening to it again, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is why it was a hit.’ The song is genius.”
“I mean, it was unavoidable,” added Paul Jacobsen, the tribute show’s organizer and bandleader. “The video was everywhere. And if you were a Soundgarden fan, you kind of took it as a badge of honor that you knew the other songs.
“It’s an insanely weird song to be a hit,” he added. “First of all, the melody is like a Dean Martin song. It’s such a jazz crooner song, yet it was this anthem of alienation for an entire generation.”
Jacobsen, who graduated high school in 1994, said he remembers being “very much in the throes of grunge” that year, while also latching onto albums like Weezer’s self-titled 1994 debut, Tom Petty’s classic “Wildflowers” and the Beastie Boys’ chart-topping “Ill Communication.”
“It’s so diverse,” Jacobsen said of 1994’s music offerings. “Beck is very different from Soundgarden is very different from Blur is very different from Lisa Loeb. I mean, there’s so many sounds going on in that year.”
Speaking of Lisa Loeb: Utah musician Mindy Gledhill remembers Loeb’s 1994 hit song “Stay (I Missed You)” being on heavy rotation in her house that year. She was 13 back then, the eighth of nine children, with lots of older teenage siblings constantly playing music.
“And I grew up in a really conservative household, so I have a lot of memories of my mom wanting to come in and turn the racket off,” Gledhill said. “I mean, as soon as she would leave, it would come back on. And I was absorbing all of that as a young teenager.”
1994, Gledhill said, was when music began occupying a growing space in her life. She still considers Lisa Loeb a major influence on her sound. She’ll open Friday’s show with a set of her solo music and will later join the house band for the tribute portion.
“I look around at everybody when we’re rehearsing, and I’m like, ‘How did the time go so fast?’ We’re not that young anymore, but we’re all seasoned musicians,” she said. “So it’s weird to think that these are all songs of the past.”5 comments on this story
There was a lot of influential music from a lot of different genres in 1994. They can’t play them all on Friday, but Paul Jacobsen said the tribute’s set list stretches beyond his individual tastes.
But hey, even he has limits.
“I couldn’t in good conscience make the band learn a Hootie & the Blowfish song, or Ace of Base. We’ll do a few things, but we’re not touching Ace of Base.”
If you go …
What: Rooftop Concert Series, “I’m a Loser, Baby: A 1994 Mixtape,”
When: Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m.
Where: 100 W. Center, Provo
How much: Free