10 Best 90s Rock Trios – The Last Great Rock Trios

The era of Glam and Hair Metal was over, and the streets of Rock had no king. What was considered cool in the ’80s immediately shifted to last decade’s trend when Grunge caught everyone by surprise, and alternative Rock and Metal rose like Blues did in the ’60s. Finally, power trios could breathe again, and a new era of experimenting in Rock blossomed.

Many consider the 90s the last great era of Rock, and it’s hard to say otherwise. As a big fan of the era and a Rock musician, it’s difficult not to notice that even the biggest ‘modern’ bands started back in those days – some of which still lead the rock charts and fill arenas.

In this list, I’ll pay tribute to those bands who stayed pure to the visceral sound of the basic drums, guitar, and bass and found another way to innovate the holy trinity of Rock four decades into the genre.

Nirvana Band

Some Rules For Myself Making These Selections

It was very tempting to go through the ’90s and pick out every band I’m a fan of. However, only a few tick the following boxes

  • The frontman needs to play an instrument to keep the band to three members
  • They have had a massive impact on the 90s music scene and sound
  • They did not necessarily start in the 90s but had success in that decade
  • Album sales matter, but the legacy comes first.
  • I will mainly mention the band lineups during the 90s and leave out the gaps in their active years to focus on the decade.

My heart skipped a beat when I realized that I couldn’t add TOOL or Alice in Chains, but still, there are more legendary acts in the list than Rock bands in the mainstream chart in any following decade.

  • Members: Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, Scott Raynor (Later replaced by Travis Barker)
  • Essential Listen: Enema Of The State

Skater Punk had no real meaning before Blink-182 brought the American teenager into Pop-Punk, leading the second mainstream rise of the genre and the last so far. Few people, though, realize that the trio spend almost one decade waiting for their moment at the end of the 90s with Enema of The State.

The simple yet effective arrangements, in-your-face guitar riffs, and straightforward lyrics with just the right amount of surprise from the drumming, first by Scott Ryanor and after their most popular drummer, Travis Barker, as with everything Punk, were long fought by critters until they were accepted for their brilliance.

Blink-182 @ Warped Tour Miami 1996 (Full Set)

It’s hard to think of anyone who’s never heard “All the Small Things” on the rock radio. To this day,  Blink-182 and Green Day lead Pop-Punk and keep inspiring trios to go hard, simple, and with the right touch of humor and let loose teenager attitude.

Nirvana (1987–1994)

  • Members: Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic
  • Essential Listen: Nevermind

Nirvana is, and forever will be, the most influential band of the 90s. No one defined what a 90s trio should sound like or what Grunge was more than Kurt Cobain’s scratchy voice and visceral guitar riffs.

They came like a storm, reinvented the music scene along with the other Seattle bands, and raised the bar high while keeping their style pure and straightforward. There were no flashy solos, but the solos that served the song were there; no crazy breakdowns, but the songwriting, chords, and melodies were as sophisticated as they ever were on mainstream Rock radio.

Nirvana – First Show w/ Dave Grohl (Olympia 1990)

Sadly, Nirvana ended with Kurt’s suicide on April 5, 1994, but what I love about them, and what should be stated more, is that they were not just revolutionaries and pop-culture hits but musical treasures, incredible musicians that took Rock to a new height.

Learn more about Nirvana with our following guide: NIRVANA BAND HISTORY.

Placebo (1994-Present)

  • Members: Brian Molko, Stefan Olsdal, Steve Hewitt
  • Essential Listen: Without You, I’m Nothing

The bands so far created a genre; Placebo blended so many of them that it is fair to say they put the Alternative in Alternative rock. Some call them Post-Punk. I consider Placebo to be a minimalist form of art rock with a punk attitude, yet there’s room for discussion there.

Their first self-titled release took the UK by storm and soon the world, with a quirky attitude and look on stage that attracted the attention of David Bowie, who helped get them worldwide recognition as openers on his shows.

Placebo – Live at Brixton Academy 1998 HD

Britpop was the movement that Rock relied on after Grunge, and alongside Radiohead, Placebo was the next to spearhead it. They never wanted to fit in the label ‘Brit,’ and listening closely to any of Brian Molko’s lyrics quickly reveals that.

As a trio, Placebo never kept to the rough side of drum, guitar, and bass, continuously bringing in synths and keys to the arrangement and changing lineups to now being a duo backup up by session musicians on stage.

Goo Goo Dolls (1994-Present)

  • Members: John Rzeznik, Robby Takac, Mike Malinin
  • Essential Listen: Name

Before you even think it, the Goo Goo Dolls are not a one-hit wonder. There had hit songs before and after “Iris,” even though that one song became bigger than the band. The Goo Goo Dolls started as a proper Punk band and, over time, changed the sound that led to The 1994 A Boy Named Goo and, afterward, the chart-breaking Name.

Few bands in the 90s left their audience stunned by the shift in genre from a more alternate to an ‘adult’ form of Rock, yet this is why I find them remarkable. Unlike many bands, they did the shift the right way, not only changing style but improving songwriting and production simultaneously.

Goo Goo Dolls – Iris (Live and Intimate Session)

Anyone who’s only heard “Iris” is truly missing out on Rzeznik’s songwriting brilliance and the unique sweet punch the trio could deliver live.

Green Day (1987-Present)

  • Members: Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tré Cool
  • Essential Listen: American Idiot

Green Day stood on the other side of US Punk, and even though their most popular release, American Idiot, was released in the early 2000s, their legacy started back in the 90s, being the band that popularised Punk more than any other.

It’s fair to say they put Pop in Punk Pop while keeping true to the unorthodox core of the genre.

The debut album, Dookie, was an instant hit, selling more than 10 million copies and setting a standard for the sound of California punk. After Seattle, Green Day stated it was the Golden State’s turn to conquer the US scene with its Punk movement.

Green Day – Full Concert (Live from Woodstock’ 94)

Musically, Punk was never initially accepted. For Green Day, though, this didn’t come from the fans but from Punk legends who considered them to be nothing related to Punk, or at least their way of playing it – the fact that they got 92 awards among 214 nominations might suggest that Pop prevailed, but who’s to say that it’s not Punk if too many people like it.

Sleater Kinney (1994-Present)

  • Members: Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss
  • Essential Listen: Dig Me Out

Seattle was not all about Grunge; the all-female band Sleater Kinney proved that multiple times with each new record release. They never quite fit the punk genre of the 90s, opting for more rage and revolt rather than being a high school house party band.

Musically, they were simple in the arrangements but not in the melodies and rhythm. The 1997 Dig Me Out record is a perfect example of taking Grunge’s darkness and often dissonant sound and adding in the indie vibe you’ll see even today in the bands they inspired and a touch of blues in everything.

Sleater-Kinney Dig Me Out @ 924 Gilman Punk Prom 5/30/97

Not often given the credit they deserve for their decade, Sleater Kinney took their time to rise to their success in the early 2000s with One Beat; yet the purest you get of them that left the biggest legacy for bands that followed is the late 90s period.

The Lemonheads (1986-Present)

  • Members: Evan Dando, David Ryan, Juliana Hatfield
  • Essential Listen: It’s a Shame About Ray

The Lemonheads are a testament to how much drive one frontman can have to go through tens of lineup changes and never give up on a core idea. They never fronted the alternative scene like Placebo did but added the finest ‘alternative’ to any rock that the radio was open enough to play by the mid-and late 90s.

The Lemonheads were influenced as much by the Beatles as by anything, jumping through periods of jangle pop, singer-songwriter tunes, and their own way of playing Punk.

The Lemonheads – “It’s A Shame About Ray” Live on Letterman

Arguably, the band was just a few years earlier in their breakthrough, with music that sounds more like it would be the 2000s hit intelligent commercial Rock. Dando never stopped, though, and you’re still in time to watch one of the last men standing from his generation of musicians.

Primus (1984-Present)

  • Members: Les Claypool, Larry Lalonde, Tim Alexander
  • Essential Listen: Pork Soda

Prog Rock was not all gone by the 90s, and it wasn’t just TOOL or Rush; Primus was there too, and unlike the others, they kept to their power trio format. Les Claypool had clear ideas about the band and what it became, and that surely was not Funk Metal as some called it, but the ultimate prog union of parody and Rock.

The band you did not expect to be in the top 10 reached number 7 with ‘Pork Soda’ without compromising track names like “My Name is Mud” and “Tommy The Cat.” Beyond the commercial success, the band’s music always had eccentricity and bravery, inspiring a generation of musicians to be ‘weird.’

Primus – Woodstock ’94 (Full Concert Remastered) 

Les Claypool doesn’t seem like he will ever stop slapping, and Primus is as strong as ever at the time of writing in 2024.

Sublime (1988–1996)

  • Members: Eric Wilson, Bud Gaugh, Bradley Nowell
  • Essential Listen: Sublime

Along the lines of Punk, with a twist of Reggae, were Sublime, the ‘sunniest’ band of the 90s that hit commercial success. As the band leading the third wave of Ska, the trio was the archetype of what is best defined as Reagge rock or Ska Punk.

No genre was left unturned with Sublime, and arguably, their music was ahead of the time, with songwriting and production that would be a hit in any era. Sublime is one of those bands, much like the Police or Queen, whose songs would top the chart if they were released today – sadly, though, their career was cut short.

Bradley Nowell passed away in 1996 from a heroin overdose, with Sublime calling it quits two months before the release of their 5x Platinium self-titled record. With the record done and set for release, the success was both a blessing and a curse for a trio who only just now, in 2023, decided to get back on the road with a new lead.

The Presidents of the United States of America (1993-2015)

  • Members: Chriss Ballew, Dave Dederer, Jason Fin
  • Essential Listen: The Presidents of the United States of America

Beyond the Grunge Big 4, Seattle brought other names to the 90s scene who you might think lived in the shadow of Nirvana but, in fact, sold millions of albums and influenced thousands of bands with their unique sound

The Presidents were the prime example of post-grunge that might mislead with the name but does convince with the music. Grungy and fat bass and guitars, a punk attitude, satirical lyrics, unexpected twists in their songs, and a unique stage presence made for the ‘antidote to the misery of Grunge’ as some magazines put it at the time.

“Video Killed, The Radio Star” will always be among my top 10 songs of the 90s, and it is one of those songs you have heard but might not know the Name of the band.

Were The ’90s The Last Big Era of Rock?

It was not the 2000s, not hip hop or reggaeton, that ‘killed’ Rock. Rick Beato said it well: “Convenience killed Rock.”

Unsurprisingly, the start of the digital age marked the end of recording budgets, with album sales becoming worthless the moment Napster kicked in and anyone could download a song for free; thus no more budget for bands to record – and a good Rock record could be very expensive to make compared to a Hip Hop or Electronic.

Yet, all is not lost. Nirvana might not be around anymore, but they were enough to inspire people today to pick up a guitar and change the world’s music scene. Perhaps it won’t be through the old record label and radio station blowing up the band’s way, but it will for sure happen again.

sleater kinney Best 90s Rock Trios
Sleater Kinney

Learn more about rock legends with our guides below:


Question: Why did the Seattle music scene blow up in the 90s?

Answer: Seattle best represented the downfall of Glam and the many social problems of 90s youth with its bands and the unique, visceral, yet innovative Gunge style. Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden dominated the Rock music scene for most of the ’90s and many other bands.

Question: What was popular besides Grunge in the 90s?

Answer: Hip-hop, Dance Music, Rap, R&B, Divas, and Pop Punk were the biggest genres besides Grunge.

Question: Was Nirvana the best-selling artist of the 90s?

Answer: No, the best-selling artist of the 90s was Celine Dion, while the artist with the most number-one hits was Mariah Carey.

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