At 11, the band returns to the stage, and this time they’re greeted with a roar of approval. The guitar player has swapped his Ducks sweater for a Space Jam jersey, and the singer now sports a shirt featuring the faces of the Hey Arnold! cast.
“Falls Church, are you guys a little drunker than when we left you?” The guitarist yells. “‘Cause we’re a little drunker than when you left us!”
I feel kind of bad for them. They’re probably making good money, but playing other people’s songs must be such a bummer. It’s hard enough to get up in front of people every night and pretend to be yourself. Imagine pretending to be a caricature of someone who cares about the ‘90s.
The band’s second set is just as obvious as the first one. There are no deep cuts here; they pump out Smash Mouth’s “All Star” and follow it with Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.” Two bros next to us, one with a shirt that reads “Hakuna Matata,” dance in the aisle, stomping and hugging each other while two gray-haired guys wearing Polo shirts tucked into their jeans yell the words into the theatre’s ceiling. Three rows down, a girl and a guy get romantic, kissing through the guitar solo. The girl is every female I knew in middle school; she’s got a pair of tight buns on the top of her head and looks to have pulled her outfit from deadstock at The Limited Too.
On the whole, I’m feeling a little disappointed. Old dorks dancing with their arms around each other is entertaining and all, but I’m not feeling the pangs of nostalgia the way I had hoped. This is certainly not my San Junipero.
The band goes through the motions, playing a rock version of The Backstreet Boys’ “Larger Than Life” and Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” During Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping,” two employees wrestle a garbage bag of balloons to the edge of the balcony. They shake half of the bag onto the dance floor, then lose their grip on it and drop the whole thing into the crowd.
I’m just about to tell Melinda I’m ready to go when the singer says “Thanks for your love, Falls Church. This next song is by a band called Harvey Danger.”
“Oh shit!” I say, looking up from my notebook for the first time in almost an hour. “They’re gonna play ‘Flagpole Sitta!’”
“What the fuck is that?” Melinda says.
The band bangs out the first few chords, and Melinda smiles. “Oh,” she says. “I know this one.”
From there on out, the Mid-Atlantic version of The Bayside Tigers turns out jam after jam. The guy in the red plaid shirt in front of me does a little jig when they ring out the opening chords of 4 Non-Blonde’s “What’s Up?” and I join in his excitement. Whether my enjoyment has anything to do with the fact that I ordered two beers the last time I visited the bar, I cannot confirm, but I am all in when the whole band gets on its knees and sings the lines “And I pray/oh my god do I pray/I pray every single day/For a revolution.”
Finally, the night reaches its natural conclusion. “Falls Church,” the singer yells, “Y’all have been great to party with! It’s late. It’s after fuckin’ midnight man!” Hired guns or not, they know their audience. It is late, and you can see the fatigue in the crowd as they sag into each other’s arms.
Rachel has already informed me via text she and Alyssa had to head home because Alyssa puked. No rallying in the hearts of this crowd; vomiting after 30 brings your night to a close.
The band’s still got a song left though, and as they try to rev up the winded crowd for one more go, I lean to Melinda and tell her what it’s going to be.
“It’s ‘Semi-Charmed Life,’” I say.
“They’re going to play Third Eye Blind.”
“Falls Church,” the singer yells, “let’s fuckin’ party!” The drummer plays a fill and the band kicks into “Semi-Charmed Life.
“How did you know that?” Melinda said.
“Because if nothing else, the 90s is predictable as fuck,” I said.
Melinda drives us home, and as we recap the evening, I reflect on whether Saved By The ‘90s lived up to its promise of being the “raddest thing since my mom.” Well, no, but I guess trying to recreate the past never is, is it? It’ll never be the way it was because the present is no longer the past. Those etched into our fondest memories resulted from a specific algorithm of events coming together at just the right time and just the right place. Then, they’re smeared over with the rose-colored haze of time.
But still, I’m thankful for the night. I happy for the fat friends hugging each other and pissing the night away, for Rachel’s chance to skip baths and bedtime and burn 2,300 calories on the dance floor. I’m happy Ted only toed the line of being thrown out, and I’m happy Alyssa got the chance to remember what it felt like to push her dinner back out through her nose. Because all of them did something about their fire. They didn’t give in to their age. They understood they need to fight for their right to party.
Chasing nostalgia is a fool’s race if your expectations are too high, the way they were for me at the local pizzeria the night before Thanksgiving. But if you can accept re-creating those past glories is no more real than San Junipero, I think you’ll be more pleased with the occasional dip into the past.
We’re almost home, but there’s still one more place from my past I want to revisit, that old friend who was always there for me after a long night out.
“Melinda,” I whisper in my wife’s ear.
“Yo quiero Taco Bell.”