Best Bets: Alaska: Purgatory for musical celebrities?

A look at musicians on their way up and on their way down

Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2003

Julia O'Malley can be reached at

With a few exceptions there are two types of celebrity musicians you see here in Alaska. First, there are the talented locals you can watch before they get famous like, for lack of a better example, Jewel.

Then there are those other bands from Outside, the ones you haven't heard of for maybe five or 20 years, like Boys II Men, or the New Mamas and the Papas, White Snake, the Scorpions (minus some original members) or Chicago. Alaska is a sort of celebrity purgatory; people who play here are either on their way up, or going down, way down.

On the subject of way down, the first concert I ever saw, in typical Alaska-grown fashion, was Chicago when I was 13. I had never really heard of them, but in Anchorage in 1990, it was just so totally cool that someone famous showed up.

So, I did my bangs and went to the Sullivan Arena with my friends. We were far up in the bleachers, where we sometimes sat for hockey games, and Chicago looked like a bunch of Ken dolls holding instruments on the concrete arena floor. Like an amazing MTV video, people in the crowd wore tight black jeans and waved lighters - until they got busted by arena security.

I remember thinking it was impressive that my ears were ringing afterward, but I couldn't tell you one song Chicago played.

That said, the Gin Blossoms are coming to Juneau. The band was really big about 10 years ago. You may not think you know who the Gin Blossoms are, but you do. Their music has been piped into every pizza place, taxi cab, elevator, or grocery store you have visited since 1993. Some titles include, "Hey Jealousy," "Found Out About You," "Till I Hear It From You" and "Until I Fall Away."

Now you are going to get the songs stuck in your head.

I went to the Gin Blossoms Web site ( and listened to some of their more recent music. It was more acoustic than before, but just as catchy as the old stuff I sometimes hear in the locker room at the gym. Apparently, since the early 1990s they have lost a member, gained new focus and are trying to make a comeback with this most recent tour. My feeling is that they have more promise than Chicago. If you can sing the chorus to "Found Out About You," you would be foolish not to attend.

The Gin Blossoms play at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, at Marlintini's Lounge. Tickets are $35 in advance at Marlintini's and Capital Records, $40 at the door.

While we are talking about the concerts of youth, I will admit that back when Jewel was still Jewel Kilcher from Homer and I was still in bangs, I used to be a fan. When I was about 16 I saw her in a small theater in Anchorage, just Jewel and guitar. She was about 20 pounds heavier then and she wasn't yet in the habit of telling dippy New Age stories between songs. Her voice was clear and full and it rolled through the room like a gentle wave.

The reason I bring this up is because I was remiss not to mention in last week's column the young Lahna Deering who played at The Alaskan Bar last Friday and Saturday. In the few golden moments when she was not being bulldozed by the Rev. Neil Down and the band, when it was just her, with her striking Nora-Jones-meets-Macy-Gray voice, she had that young Jewel sparkle. The sort of thing that made you think you would be telling people in 10 years about seeing her in Juneau. Next time she plays, I'll let you know.

I also will mention another on-his-way-up artist coming our way this weekend, Habib Koité, a guitarist from Mali, Africa. Koité would be an exception to the Jewel vs. Chicago Alaska paradigm. I have been listening to his CD in the office all week and it is worth owning. The music is danceable and mellow all at once. Not to mention, Bonnie Raitt loves him so much she said she would drink his sweat. I promise the concert will be more than worth the ticket price, and you will feel lucky on the drive home.

Habib Koité plays at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at Centennial Hall. Tickets are $15 for students and seniors, $20 for adults and $65 for families and available at Rainy Day Books, Hearthside Books, or at the door.

Thanks for reading.

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