Stephan Jenkins begins Third Eye Blind’s set shrouded in smoke, standing at the back of the stage in a black hood. It’s an appropriate display for a man whose motives and persona are purposely enveloped in mystery, seemingly changing with each subsequent appearance in the pop culture ethos.
On this night, in front of a sold out crowd in one of Indianapolis’ premier mid-sized venues, Jenkins will speak frequently of community and how Third Eye Blind is a product resulting from the energy and passion of its fanbase. In his openly wry attempts to sidestep the spotlight, you can still sense the ego and smugness of a man who has made no bones about his place in rock-stardom throughout the years – in a multitude of forms.
Perhaps that’s part of the appeal. Of the many bands to rise from the post-grunge ashes in the mid to late 90s, Third Eye Blind has managed to weather the storm of time and remain relevant – not just in a nostalgic sense, but as a formidable and respectable act amongst the indie and underground rock throngs.
Whether it be their explosive appearance at this year’s SXSW festival that resulted in a full-scale police shutdown or their recent box-set vinyl release that sold out in a matter of minutes, it’s clear that the band has a foothold on the market, and at the front of that charge lies the masked face of Jenkins.
After a performance of “Semi-Charmed Life”, he reflects on the band’s early days, noting that he can’t even remember who he was when he wrote those songs. In Jenkins opinion, this is not of relevance – the real story of Third Eye Blind is the community of people and fans that surround them. His pseudo-humble demeanor reflects starkly against the many roles he has played over the years.
Looking for a Generation X reluctant star with a nevermind shug? How about a dark, complex ex-celebrity reflecting on his fame? The resurgent icon shedding the spotlight with an “aw shucks” attitude? Jenkins has played them all with gusto and expanded his audience every step of the way. This is not necessarily a slight, but a nod to the intelligence of Jenkins as a businessman and his ability to sell his product.
It’s certainly true that many of these songs stand the test of time, still as catchy and oddly meaningful as they ever were. Yet it would be foolish to refute the role of Jenkins himself and his shape-shifting abilities in keeping Third Eye Blind on the tip of everyone’s tongue. This, alongside the ever-present promise of new music that lies just beyond the horizon, preserve fans’ attention and fuel the engine of a band that is still selling out shows nearly 15 years after their heyday.
As the giant crowd belts out the words to “Jumper”, Jenkins moves away from the mic and smiles in admiration. He’s in full character, but no one seems to mind. It would be easy to dislike the man, but it’s a difficult task when he’s so damn good at what he does. Jenkins outsmarted the system and extended his stay in our collective consciousness, and strangely, we’re probably better for it – because these songs are still really good.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.