After rocking its way to the top of the music world, the members of Third Eye Blind looked back wistfully on the days when they were not so far removed from their fans.
The desire to get up close and personal with audiences sparked the San Francisco group -- whose multiplatinum hits includes "Semi-Charmed Life," "How It's Going to Be," and "Jumper" -- to embark on a 20-city tour of small clubs, starting in Toledo tomorrow night at Headliners.
It's called the "Within Arm's Reach" tour and frontman Stephan Jenkins, for one, is taking that moniker seriously.
"It's about reconnecting with the audience, and it is also about getting within arm's reach of the band," Jenkins said in a recent interview from Los Angeles. "It's going to be really up-close, really loud, and messy."
Third Eye Blind made a fast climb after it was formed in 1993, building a buzz in the Bay Area and triggering a bidding war among record labels. In 1996, the band signed with Elektra Records and released its self-titled debut disc the next year, quickly selling 4 million copies. The disc remained on the Billboard 200 chart for more than a year and continues to be a strong seller, recently surpassing the 6 million mark in sales.
When the four-man band played Toledo for the first time in 1998, it played at the now defunct Asylum, a mid-sized downtown club. When Third Eye Blind returned to town in July, 2000, the group sold out the 5,000-seat Toledo Zoo Amphitheatre.
In between, 3EB played such oversized venues as the Pontiac Silverdome, opening for the Rolling Stones, and a number of outdoor stadiums in opening for U2.
The group's sophomore disc, 1999's “Blue,” sold over a million copies and yielded the hit single “Never Let You Go,” and 3EB contributed a song to the soundtrack of the Jim Carrey film Me, Myself & Irene.
Now Jenkins and colleagues — bassist Arion Salazar, guitarist Tony Fredianelli, and drummer Brad Hargreaves — are getting back to what the singer calls “the nitty gritty.”
The last few years were spent “in hibernation,” said the charismatic singer, a gossip-column favorite for his longtime relationship with actress Charlize Theron. (The couple split in 2001.)
“I took some time off after the last album to really get ahold of what is genuine to me, and I think that translates into the music on this album,” Jenkins said. The band came to the conclusion that “music sounds different when everyone is bumping into each other,” Jenkins said.
“I like to play 5,000-seat venues to get this really big collective ‘cathedralesque' thing happening,” he said. “But then again I really like playing small venues, 500 to 1,000 seats, where you can look people in the eye or grab people. I like the whole intensity of that.”
Playing smaller venues, where the staging and theatrics don't mesmerize the crowd, is much more demanding on a rock band, Jenkins said.
“When you play a small club, you really have to prove it. You are, in some sense, naked for this crowd and they're just gonna know it. You're not going to hide behind anything. I like the challenge of that. I come from sort of a punk-rock mentality where you have to get up there and you have to earn it.”
The “Within Arm's Reach” tour will focus on material from Third Eye Blind's long-awaited third disc, “Out of the Vein,” scheduled for release May 13.
“For me, music serves a purpose. It's not just decorative,” Jenkins said. “It has to serve some urge in me. And that has to be something that's real and genuine. And that's what I think this new music does. It's a much more raw album, but it's a much more pretty and beautiful album too, if that makes sense.”
The first single from the new CD, “Blinded” (which can be hard online at www.elektrarecords.com), has the same tuneful pop-rock sound that made 3EB famous, but with a bit more soul and urgency. Jenkins said the new disc reflects “our continuing fascination with Lou Reed and club rhythms.”
“I want people to come to this concert with a sense of wanting to hear something new, and with a desire to be free,” Jenkins said.
Does he also want fans to get close enough to touch the band?
“Absolutely!” Jenkins said. “Come on up! That's why it's called ‘Within Arm's Reach.' This is for us to get in contact with the fans and for the fans to get in touch with us.”
With Third Eye Blind's enthusiasm for its new material and with the high-powered show squeezed into a relatively small club, Jenkins anticipates a lot of shimmying and shaking on the concert floor.
“Wear sensible shoes,” he advised. “Don't wear heels or anything like that.”