Has enough time really passed to make the ’90s seem hip and cool?
It has if you’re 31, like musician Nat Esten is. To people his age, the decade of the ’90s were formative years, when music and pop culture seemed wondrous and important.
Esten co-founded a touring music party called Saved by the 90s in 2010, and it has apparently met a pent-up need for ’90s nostalgia. He and partner Alex Rossiter now manage six different live bands that tour regions of the country banging out nearly-forgotten hits by the Spice Girls or The Beastie Boys and dusting off hopefully-forgotten phrases like “cowabunga dude.” One of those bands will bring Saved by the 90s to Portland’s Port City Music Hall Friday.
“Everybody in all the bands grew up listening to ’90s music, we like to think it’s ingrained in our souls,” said Esten, who is based in New York City.
Esten and Rossiter met at Berklee College of Music in Boston. After college, he got a job in the music industry but not as performer – booking electronic music festivals and events. He and Rossiter tried to think of ways to keep playing music on the side and Saved by the 90s was born. They reached out to friends in different parts of the country to start up regional bands that could play the shows in those areas.
The show’s name is a play on the wildly popular kids and tween sitcom “Saved by the Bell.”
The shows draw celebrities who had their best days in the ’90s, including Dustin Diamond, the actor who played awkward Screech on “Saved by the Bell.”
Other celebrities who have shown up at Saved by the 90s shows include Chris Barron (The Spin Doctors), DJ Jazzy Jeff and Coolio.
At a Saved by the 90s show, the song list can feature several dozen rock, rap and pop hits, ranging, alphabetically, from Ace of Base’s “The Sign” to Weezer’s “Undone (Sweater Song).” In between, you might hear Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones,” Del Amitri’s “Roll To Me,” Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” or Radiohead’s “Creep.”
The list also includes songs made famous by The Cranberries, Everclear, Fiona Apple, Garbage, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine and Sugar Ray.
There is usually a DJ at the shows, warming up the crowd and keeping the dancing going after the band is done.
The band playing Portland has four members: Jimmy Coberly, Izaiah Yelle, Tom Cadrin and Viana Valentine.
With such a wide range of tunes to choose from, do the musicians themselves have a favorite ’90s number?
“I think I speak for most of the band members when I say that “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind is a ’90s masterpiece,” said Esten.
With the key word there being ” ’90s.”