Four years ago, Third Eye Blind singer Stephan Jenkins wrote a commentary for Huffington Post with the headline, “Why We Aren’t Playing at the RNC,” saying they couldn’t accept an invitation to perform at a private party during the 2012 Republican convention because “they are, in fact, a party dedicated to exclusion.” Observers with a memory of that blog might have wondered why the band did an about-face and accepted just such an invite this year. Now, the answer is clear: to speak out against the Republican platform in the belly of the beast.
Witnesses at the group’s Tuesday night show in Cleveland, a charity gig inside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, reported that Jenkins used the occasion to say he “repudiates” what the Republican party now stands for. Clips uploaded to social media platforms show the crowd booing, followed by Jenkins exclaiming: “You can boo all you want, but I’m the motherf—in’ artist up here.”
Some attendees grumbled that the only recognizable song of the set was their final number, “Jumper,” which reached No. 5 on the Hot 100 in 1998. Jenkins had a reason for performing that one, and it wasn’t to placate the crowd. Having previously described the song as “a noir about a guy who jumped off a bridge and killed himself because he was gay,” the singer expressed a wish in his intro that the party would welcome people “like my cousins who are gay into the American fabric. To love this song is to take into your heart the message and to actually have a feeling to arrive and move forward and not live your life in fear and imposing that fear on other people.”
— Third Eye Blind (@ThirdEyeBlind) July 19, 2016
As “Jumper” wrapped up, Jenkins seemed to taunt the crowd, saying, “Raise your hand if you believe in science.” Although a preliminary setlist one attendee tweeted out had their signature song, “Semi-Charmed Life,” listed as an encore, the group did not return to the stage.
Afterward, one audience member, Liza White, tweeted that she had “never been more disappointed,” to which the group’s official Twitter account replied, “Good.” Although that account did not use the word “troll” itself, a user who identified himself as the group’s “sound dude,” Eddie Hudson, wrote, “I don’t tweet much but happy to have been part of this troll of the RNC today with the @ThirdEyeBlind guys.”
Like most of the late-night concerts going on in Cleveland this week, the Third Eye Blind show was not an official RNC event but a charity concert — in this case, an RIAA-produced event benefiting Musicians on Call, described as “a nonprofit that brings live and recorded music to the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities.”
The fact that Third Eye Blind registered their protest of Republican policies at a charity show particularly angered some conservatives. “Wow,” tweeted a not even semi-charmed user under the name @politicalmath. “@thirdeyeblind f—ed a ‘charity event’ to help sick kids to have this little tantrum. And liberals love it.”
“Pretty sure Third Eye Blind is purposefully playing terrible in front of their GOP crowd,” tweeted attendee James Hewitt, senior director of the consulting firm Dezenhall Resources, during the show. “Also changing their lyrics to criticize the GOP as a whole.” Later, Hewitt added: “Just wasted two hours of my life listening to third eye blind play terrible music then call the crowd bigots.”
Others objected less to the political content of the show than the setlist. “Third Eye Blind is playing new s— and I am not pleased,” tweeted Elizabeth Harrington, a writer for the conservative website the Washington Free Beacon.
As word of the gig spread, though, and the band became a trending topic late Tuesday night, many of the responses treated the band in heroic terms, along with a fair share of additional condemnation. Sample responses:
“Well played at RNC tonight — literally & figuratively! As a Republican, only love.” — @HannahMinks
“I have a bunch of Third Eye Blind on my phone and today I’m actually proud of that fact.” — @ajnorthrop
“DON’T MAKE ME LIKE THIRD EYE BLIND. This is Trump’s most horrific legacy.” — @AndyCobb
“Embarrassing a great charity like @musiciansoncall is not an epic troll… @musiciansoncall is a great cause, it’s a shame @ThirdEyeBlind ruined a nice night for them.” — @FinneganPat
“The idea of @ThirdEyeBlind playing ‘Non-Dairy Creamer’ in front of hundreds of Republicans is just astoundingly hilarious.” — @2VOICE_ (The song includes a repeated chant of “young gay Republicans.”)
“If Trump gets in the first law he’s gonna pass is that ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ MUST be played at all Third Eye Blind live shows” — @levdawg
The group’s attitude might not have come as a complete surprise to anyone who read Jenkins’ 2012 HuffPo essay. Back then, he wrote, “The Republican party is on the wrong side of Lilly Ledbetter, fiscal responsibility, unions, civil rights, climate change, evolution, the Big Bang theory, stem cells, Medicare, and me, and that’s why we will let them be, in their government-funded event center, to sell their song and dance without me… They now seek to subvert the democratic process itself because they no longer think they can win by adhering to basic tenets of our democracy like the Voting Rights Act. I call that craven. For that reason alone, if I came to their convention, I would Occupy their convention.”
While protest supergroup also had plenty of salty things to say about GOP nominee Donald Trumps coronation on Tuesday night, any similar “occupations” are unlikely to occur during the musical performances on the remaining two nights of the convention, where performers doing similar after-hours charity gigs include country star Lee Brice and affirmed Trump supporter Kid Rock.