With its bold, straightforward opening riff, Lit set fire to radio stations during the summer of 1999 with the lead single “My Own Worst Enemy,” carving out a place as one of the iconic bands of the late ’90s with one of the most hooky songs to come out of the post-grunge era.
The power-punk band is packing that and many of its other hits as it headlines The Ultimate ’90s Fest this weekend at the Afterlife Music Hall in Lombard.
When the bender anthem from Lit’s second studio album “A Place in the Sun” flooded the airwaves, it earned the band Modern Rock Track of the Year honors at the 1999 Billboard Music Awards. And last year’s double-platinum rating by the Recording Industry Association of America proves the song’s popularity was more than just a fluke.
Despite what lead singer A. Jay Popoff thinks.
“I feel like anybody could have written that song because we’re just telling a story of any college kid going nuts and partying,” he said. “Having a great time, drinking, waking up hung over, regretting what we didn’t know we did. But at the same time, we’re still kind of blown away, you know? We were blown away then, and we’re still blown away by how much people gravitated toward it and dig the song. We feel super lucky.”
“We were blown away then, and we’re still blown away by how much people gravitated toward it and dig the song. We feel super lucky.”
Popoff, his brother Jeremy and longtime friends Kevin Baldes and the late Allen Shellenberger had been riding stages together in other Orange County bands for nearly a decade before forming Lit — “the 10-year overnight success,” Popoff joked about how people kept saying they came out of nowhere with the success of the single.
Popoff recalled how one of their stage managers and lifelong friends first heard the song at a rehearsal. “He said, ‘No, I don’t care for that.’ We hadn’t even played it live yet. We felt like ‘We think it’s pretty cool, but, man, T-Bone hates it, so maybe it’s shit.’ But fast forward and the song just took on its own life. It was crazy.”
According to Popoff, when RCA got into the mix and started sending their tape around — thanks to a nudge from Stacy Ferguson (better known as Fergie) — the roller coaster really took off.
“When stations started playing the demo, we knew something was special about that song and people were excited about it.”
Taken as a whole, Lit’s subsequent singles from the album — “Miserable” and “Zip-Lock” — and 2001’s follow-up release “Atomic” really tell a story of the time.
“We typically either write about dysfunction in relationships or just having a good time,” Popoff said. “We’re not usually trying to veer far into anything political or worldly. We kind of keep it light for the most part and keep it to just real life kind of stuff.”
Even though Lit is celebrating an album now growing into its third decade, the band doesn’t settle for stagnation. The breakout “Sun” showed them moving away from the heavier sound of their first release “Tripping the Light Fantastic.” And with Popoff’s recent move to Nashville with his family, where his brother had already relocated, Lit’s output has leaned more into country influences, a blend of the band’s hallmark sound with a lyricism that captures who they are now.
“I think our band changes and evolves maybe more than a lot of bands should. We allow ourselves a lot of wiggle room,” he said. “It wasn’t really until I came over here and started writing with some of these country guys that I really listened to what they were doing. Most of them are so influenced by rock bands that it was kind of a hybrid. And as we’re older, there’s other things that we want to talk about that might be a little deeper.”
Popoff said Lit’s appearance at this weekend’s ’90s Fest will celebrate some nostalgia, but with a touch of the band’s contemporary path. A new album is due out later this year, and he said fans will be treated to a few of the unreleased songs peppered into the set.
“We always bring all the classics, all the favorites,” he said. “You know when you go to watch a band and your favorite songs came out years ago? A lot of times you don’t want to have a bunch of new songs shoved down your throat. But the crowds’ reception has been insane for these new songs. I’m excited for everyone to hear those.”
• Along with headliner Lit (including newest member Taylor Carroll), the Ultimate ’90s Fest will feature sets by Downers Grove and Chicago-bred Swizzle Tree, the All American Throwbacks and Basket Case Chicago, along with a ’90s fashion costume contest, trivia, vendors and drink specials spread across BrauerHouse, the outdoor beer garden and the adjoining Afterlife Music Hall.
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The Ultimate ’90s Fest
When: 6 p.m. at the venue (doors open at the restaurant at 4 p.m.) Saturday, July 17
Where: Afterlife Music Hall/BrauerHouse, 1000 N. Rohlwing Road, Lombard
Tickets: $20 general admission, with VIP, table and seating packages available at eventbrite.com