Category Archives: 90s Rock Reviews

Sevendust and Coal Chamber at Rams Head Live

One of the perks of fronting a band with goth-leaning tendencies (or Kiss) is the ability to freeze the aging process by slathering on ever-increasing amounts of makeup.  Coal Chamber frontman Dez Fafara certainly took advantage of the opportunity during Monday night’s performance at Rams Head Live, covering his face in white paint save for a blackened strip across his eyes.

But if Dez looked like the third member of Insane Clown Posse, his band’s performance otherwise remained unchanged, almost as though it was frozen in time since their last tour with the evening’s headliners, Sevendust, in 1998.

Without any new material to promote, the band pounded their way through a thirteen song set that relied exclusively upon their 10+ years old studio output.  The capacity crowd, many of whom were on hand to see Coal Chamber’s first area performance since reforming late last year, were partial to songs from the band’s debut, including Loco, Big Truck, and the set closer, Sway.  As ever, Coal Chamber’s bottom-heavy sound, coupled with Dez’s gravel-gargled screams, played heavier live than on record.  And while Dez has never really gone away, recording and touring for the past decade with Devildriver, guitarist Meegs Rascon and drummer Bug Cox came back with the same stage presence as they did 15 years ago, Meegs glaring dead-eyed at the crowd while Bug broke drum sticks at will as roadies stood by with back up. 

Coal Chamber’s newest member, Chela Harper, must have responded to the band’s craigslist ad requesting a female willing to wear dark makeup and pirouette while occasionally hitting a few bass notes.  A teeny bopper at best during the band’s heyday, she was clearly a hit with the mostly male crowd.

Compared to Coal Chamber, Sevendust’s post-90s output is a study in nu-metal contrast.  The Atlanta, Georgia five piece never went away, putting out 9 albums while consistently touring the club circuit.  With the return of guitarist Clint Lowery a few years back, the original lineup is the same as it was when the band formed in 1997. 

Unsurprisingly, songs from their debut album and follow-up Home saw the most devil horn salutes.  Five of the band’s thirteen song set came from the 1997-1999 era.  While he’s not jumping around the stage as buoyantly these days, singer Lajon Witherspoon’s vocals sounded rich and his gracious stage presence was a sharp turn from Dez’s painted jumping bean. 

The band tore through their 75 minute set, with bassist Vince Hornsby and a hooded Lowery showcasing for the crowd most energetically.  Along the way, they debuted 3 new songs from the recently released Black Out the Sun.  If their sales haven’t kept up since the last millennium, their sound hasn’t changed much.  The only disappointments of the evening were the piped-in backing vocals that were apparent during several songs (note: if you’re going to use backing tracks, at least keep your mouth near the mic when they’re in use) and the band’s decision to close with post Y2K encores on a co-headlining tour whose appeal is clearly nostalgic.  “Bitch,” “Waffle,” or the title track from Home could have sent the fans home happy. 

Still, if you were an angsty, testosterone-addled man child in the late 1990s or loved someone who was, this a tour worth grabbing your chain wallet and plunking down $30.  

coal chambersevendust

Deftones in Baltimore, MD

Originally published October 29, 2012 on The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

Shortly after 10 p.m., Deftones — the California five piece alt-metal band — hit the stage, opening with the title cut from 2010’s “Diamond Eyes.” Two more tracks from “Diamond Eyes” followed, the churning “Rocket Skates” and “You’ve Seen the Butcher.” The latter featured the band’s signature slow-burning to convulsive and back verse-chorus pattern, to which the crowd responded appropriately, shouting along to Chino Moreno’s vocals and surging toward the stage with the occasional crowd-surfer plunging forward to his eminent expulsion.
While new songs were well-received, two of the band’s oldest tracks, “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” and “My Own Summer” prompted more sing/shout-alongs and cell-phone waving than did the band’s newer material.
Veteran frontman Moreno, who played guitar intermittently throughout the evening, best commanded the crowd when free to roam the stage with only his heavily taped microphone. Wearing a red flannel shirt and baggy pants, Moreno catered to every portion of the crowd, perching atop amplifiers stage front before racing toward one end of the stage and back, occasionally wrapping the mic chord around his neck like a noose.
Guitarist Stephen Carpenter and Sergio Vega (filling in for Chi Cheng) seemed content to give Moreno most of the stage, rarely roaming out from their respective corners.  Along with drummer Abe Cunningham, the band’s sound is nearly as tight live as it is on record, even with a bassist who’s only been touring with them for a few years. Also, there was a guy on stage with a Mac computer. I suppose he is the DJ.
With few breaks between songs, the band raced towards a late set peak that included “Change (In the House of Flies),” “Passenger” and “Bloody Cape” before a brief break and an encore of “Bored,” “Root” and “7 Words.” Bad Brains vocalist H.R. (aka Paul D. Hudson), who joined the band for “Right Brigade,” returned to trade lyrics with Moreno on “Bored,” though his microphone was nearly too low to hear in the heavy mix. For “Passenger,” a song recorded with Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, Moreno encouraged audience participation to fill in the missing vocals.
The band’s platinum days may be behind them, but they show no signs of slowing down, either in the studio or on the road. With a new album, “Koi No Yokan,” due next month, Deftones’ current tour will  continue into 2013. Though they’ve often been lumped in with late ’90s mook-rockers, the act enjoyed a rare level of critical respect and have developed a dedicated fan base who came to the show ready for a night of well-worn songs that have yet to gather rust.
Before the Deftones, Scars on Broadway played a well-received set. The band features Daron Malakian and John Dolmayan of System of a Down. Accordingly, they sound like System of a Down minus frontman Serj Tankian’s distinct howl. If you hear a Scars on Broadway song and think one of the lyrics sounds like the tongue-twisting Mary Poppins tune “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” that’s because it is. The band presented a solid set but Malakian and company cannot replace the manic charisma of Tankian, and given the band’s similar dance-beats-meet-thundering-strings sound, it is hard not to make the comparison.

Deftones’ setlist: “Diamond Eyes” “Rocket Skates” You’ve Seen the Butcher Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away) My Own Summer (Shove It) Poltergeist Rosemary Feiticeira Digital Bath

Stone Temple Pilots in Baltimore, MD

April 27, 2011

Originally published on the Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

One of the biggest draws for concert-goers at a Stone Temple Pilots show is seeing in what type of condition front-man Scott Weiland in in when he takes the stage.

From the start of STP’s set opener “Crackerman,” it was clear Weiland was ready to play to the crowd of nearly 3,000 who came to see the grunge holdouts open the concert season at Pier Six Pavilion.

The band’s 90-minute, 17-song set covered all of the bases, including five songs from their 1992 debut album, “Core.” Despite a few longer-than-necessary song breaks, the band, led by Weiland’s charisma and trademark deep vocals as well as the Deleo brothers’ guitar work, had the crowd at its feet for the duration of the evening.

The hit-laden show was heavy on the band’s early catalog, with only a couple of songs from their eponymous 2010 post-reunion album.

The band seemed game to play the classics, and the foursome appeared in unison following a two-song encore to thank the chanting crowd of supporters, most of whom were there to relive their 90s-era youth.

If Tuesday night’s set is any indication, a healthy Stone Temple Pilots have the chops and the fan base to play the amphitheater circuit for years to come, with or without new material.

Pier Six’s promoters seem to expand the calendar of shows on the waterfront each season, and opening 2011 with a Tuesday night show in April was surely a calculated risk. As luck would have it, the evening was clear and warm, surely bringing a significant number of walk-up sales to the venue.

Of course, booking a band that has been playing much larger venues since their 2008 reunion helps as well. The relative intimacy of Pier Six brought the band and audience closer together. And though the acoustics are not top-notch, the Deleo brothers’ extended power chords coupled with Weiland’s elongated-vowels (“Caaaaan youuuuuu seeeeee”) help distinguish the songs through a muddled mix.

The show got underway around 9:15 p.m., with a fit and trim-looking Weiland leading the group with their classic lineup intact. Wearing all black with a maroon scarf and sporting his signature sunglasses and megaphone, Weiland swayed and occasionally pirouetted his way through most of the show. If he was in any way road-weary, he wasn’t showing it on this evening.

In fact, the entire band, now all well into their 40s, were fit and locked in. My guess is the only stimulant on the tour bus is Vitaminwater.

Following the third song of the evening, “Vaseline,” STP played four songs that constitute the weakest part of their current show, including the single from their latest album, “Between the Lines” (It’s about cocaine! Get it?!) and a few lesser-known tracks. The port-a-potty lines swelled during this stretch.

Fans were back to the sing-along by the time the band pulled out “Big Empty,” a huge hit from 1994’s “The Crow” soundtrack. Monster hits “Plush,” “Interstate Love Song,” and a megaphone-assisted “Dead and Bloated” were also crowd favorites.

Bands strongly identified with a particular era have a built-in audience if they are willing to play to their fans’ radio-driven interests. Summer stage mainstays like Chicago, Journey, and Earth, Wind & Fire make brisk business touring the country each summer by giving their fans the hits that remind them of yesteryear. The last 90s band I saw at Pier Six, Counting Crows, seemed unwilling to go that route.

Adam Duritz flat out refuses to play “Mr. Jones,” his biggest hit and the reason he can sleep past noon everyday for the rest of his life.

STP, always a band criticized for commercializing the “alternative” sound, are one of the few 90s bands with the goods and the apparent willingness to deliver their standards to the people. If they can stay healthy and satisfied to put their payday singles upfront with only a few unidentifiable deep cuts or new songs to slow down the proceedings, they will have a happy audience of late Gen Xers and early Gen Yers ready to plunk down $75 and their blankets each time they come around.

Set highlights, in order:
“Wicked Garden”
“Vaseline” “Between The Lines” (first single off their latest)
“Big Empty
“Dancing Days” (Led Zeppelin cover)
“Interstate Love Song”
Encore, “Dead and Bloated”
“Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart”


Third Eye Blind in Baltimore, MD

February 2, 2012

Originally published in The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

As with its music, there is nothing particularly ornate about Third Eye Blind’s stage show, which features a gigantic block-lettered Third Eye Blind banner and a small oriental rug at center stage. The band, which features former “TRL” heartthrob Stephan Jenkins, sounded well-rehearsed. Although Jenkins is the sole original member performing in the current lineup, his bandmates sounded professional and seemed content to defer the small, carpeted center of the stage to Jenkins.

The sound at Rams Head further garbled the already obtuse delivery of Jenkins’ vocals, but that didn’t seem to bother the sold-out crowd on hand for a Monday night show, as they sang along to every “whoa” “woo” and occasional falsetto chorus from the first line of opener “Thanks a Lot” through the set’s end.

Casual fans of Third Eye Blind may be surprised by the number of hits the California alterna-pop group have in its catalogue. A product of the pre-YouTube, big-record-label era, Third Eye Blind got a major push for its first two albums. The group’s eponymous debut charted five singles in the late ’90s, a feat only accomplished today by pop-star juggernauts such as Katy Perry.

Early success allowed the band to sprinkle Monday’s set-list with lesser hits such as “Losing a Whole Year” and “Never Let You Go,” which received roughly the same amount of applause as Jenkins received for donning a new hat or wrapping his scarf around his guitar. The fit, scruffy 47-year-old singer played to his strengths, posing arms crossed in a hooded sweatshirt and interacting with the crowd long enough to get a few cheers just for being himself without grinding the proceedings to a screeching halt.

Of course, the band’s biggest hits, “Graduate,” “Jumper” and “Semi-Charmed Life,” got the most fist-pumps from the appreciative crowd. Mid-set ballad “Jumper” received the most extensive reworking;  it was pushed over the 10-minute mark by virtue of a mid-song drum solo that marked the only fraction of the evening spotlighting a band member other than Jenkins. Following “Jumper,” the appropriately named “Slow Motion” was a bit of a comedown, but the band quickly won the audience back by throwing glowsticks to a number of fans on the first floor just in time for the encore.

“Semi-Charmed Life,” perhaps the biggest methamphetamine-themed hit song with a scat chorus of “doot-do-doots” of all time, opened the band’s encore, but the remainder of the encore was rather anti-climactic without any hits with which to finalize the evening. Yet, when the lights went on for good at around 10:15, fans filtered out of the club, happy, if not overwhelmed. In all, Monday’s Third Eye Blind show highlights the quartet’s current place in pop culture. Not hokey or dated-sounding enough to truly qualify as a nostalgia act, Third Eye Blind is the perfect mainstay for the no-format format of terrestrial radio stations such as Jack FM. They fit in pretty much anywhere, and may even incite a spirited sing-along or two if the mood is right.

Set Highlights (excluded last three songs of encore)

“Thanks a Lot”
“Crystal Baller”
“Can You Take Me”
“Losing a Whole Year”
“Never Let You Go”
“Bonfire Song”
“NonDairy Creamer”
“Jumper (extended drum solo)”
“Slow Motion”
“Dao of St. Paul”
“Monotov’s Private Opera”
“Semi-Charmed Life”

Foo Fighters in Washington, D.C.

November 12, 2011

Originally published in The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

From the opening riffs of “Bridge Burning,” Foo Fighters were locked in, often transitioning from song to song without pause for up to six songs in a row. Grohl, a veteran of the arena setting, and to a lesser extent, drummer Taylor Hawkins, are the showmen of the group.

But rest of the band, including eleventh-hour Nirvana guitarist and smile-machine Pat Smear, are clearly comfortable playing with one another and in front of a large crowd, keeping the pace of each song a half step faster than the album versions without pushing the songs to an unrecognizable tempo.

The band took the stage promptly at 9:02 p.m. (how’s that for timeliness, Axl Rose?) and put on a tight, nearly three-hour set full of the itss extensive catalog of hits. For Grohl, it was a homecoming, as he spent most of his childhood and adolescence in the Virginia suburbs of DC.

After seventeen years and seven studio albums, Foo Fighters’ sound has remained constant, so old staples like “Monkey Wrench” and “This is a Call” blend easily with more recent fare like “The Pretender” and “Let it Die.”

Grohl played each of the band’s first seventeen songs with floppy-haired enthusiasm. Unlike, say Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails electronic angst, the poppy grunge sound of the Foo Fighters still works in this setting and with a crowd that likely had to secure child care for the evening before buying tickets.
The audience’s appreciation for Grohl was tested during the encore, which began with the frontman performing by himself on a raised portion of the stage in the middle of the floor.  After a few shout outs to local malls and hangouts from his early days, Grohl asked the crowd to do the wave before performing a pair of songs, “Wheels” and “Best of You” on an acoustic guitar.

At this point Grohl’s showmanship and enthusiasm gave way briefly to egotism, as Grohl clearly basked in the cheers from the audience while playing songs, which, stripped of the strength and weight of his professional bandmates, sounded like they could have been performed by any Joe Guitar at your local pub.

Thankfully, the rest of the band returned during “Times Like These” and three more songs. Aftewards, the crowd poured out of the Verizon Center and returned home home, happily drumming along on their minivan steering wheels to “Everlong” just as they had on their hand-me-down Accords 15 years ago.