Category Archives: Modern Rock Reviews

Blue October in Baltimore, MD

April 2, 2012

Originally published on The Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

Blue October’s Sunday night show at Ram’s Head live began with an acoustic set by the band’s lead singerand songwriter Justin Furstenfeld.  Striking an Aaron Lewis-esque look in baggy jeans and a baseball cap, Furstenfeld strummed a few open chords and added an electronic drumbeat for portions of the 30-minute set.

Towards the end of the solo set, Furstenfeld proclaimed that he was not, in fact, a guitarist and that his “sausage fingers” made playing a six-string a difficult endeavor.  Still, the audience didn’t come to hear a guitar virtuoso put on a clinic.  They came to hear Furstenfeld’s lyrics, nearly all of which are melancholy tunes about breakups that rely heavily on words that rhyme with “girl” and “heart.”

Between the solo performance and Blue October’s headlining set, fellow Texas band Girl in a Coma amped up the proceedings with a hard-rocking set that included a bar-room bluesy cover of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight.”  Signed to Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records, lead singer/guitarist Nina Diaz’s confident growls and snarls provided a real contrast to the bummed out musings of Furstenfeld.

But if the acoustic opener was Furstenfeld’s opportunity to whimper softly about his heartache, Blue October’s hour and a half set offered a much faster-paced form of therapy.  With a touring band that includes a viola/violinist, Blue October’s hour and a half set included six tracks off of 2011’s “Any Man in America.”  The album deals with Furstenfeld’s divorce and custody battle, though you wouldn’t know it by the merrily dancing fans who filled most of Ram’s Head on a Sunday night.

Once the headlining set started, Furstenfeld’s soft-spoken persona gave way to a charismatic frontman.  Dressed in black and sporting a colorful mohawk, Furstenfeld donned a guitar for more than half of a set, though only strumming it on occasion.  Instead, he left the majority of the instrumental work to his four-piece backing band, including his brother Jeremy Furstenfeld on drums.

The band was given a fuller sound by multi-instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye’s ability to multitask, handling the violin, keyboards, and  backing vocals, often within the same song.

The band’s biggest hits, “Into the Ocean” and “Hate Me,” both from 2006’s “Foiled” LP provided the most audible sing-alongs of the night, and Furstenfeld let the crowd handle some of the duties for the latter.

Still, the fans on hand didn’t come out just to hear a six-year-old single.  Most of the audience was familiar with the band’s entire catalog, which the group sped up to a live pace and added plenty of vocal reverb to fortify Furstenfeld’s vowel-heavy choruses.

As he worked every part of the stage, holding the mic with both hands while carrying a guitar strapped to his belly like some kind of defense mechanism, Furstenfeld was the rock and roll everyman, oscillating from reserved talk-singing verses to big choruses and back, all the while looking to his audience through heavily made-up eyes for approval.

And approve they did, cheering and giving slightly misplaced devil horns at appropriate intervals for the duration of the evening.

Setlist:

She’s My Ride Home

Say It

Sound of Pulling Heaven Down

Dirt Room

Kangaroo Cry

Into the Ocean

The Feel Again

For the Love

The Chills

The Flight

James

The End

Hate Me

The Worry List

The Getting  Over It Part

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Seether, Sick Puppies, and Charm City Devils in Baltimore, MD

September 22, 2012

Originally published in the Baltimore Sun’s Midnight Sun

The Autumn Equinox, a 98 Rock-sponsored concert featuring Charm City Devils, Sick Puppies and Seether, may not have sold as many tickets as Sunday night’s sold-out banjo-and-acoustic-guitar-dueling kinsmen the Avett Brothers, but fans on hand were treated to an intercontinental array of hard-rock music and showmanship.

Taking the stage at 7 p.m., with sunlight still streaming into the amphitheater, local-rockers-with-national-success Charm City Devils put together a 50-minute set full of fast-paced, bluesy hard rock. Stage lights, a sudden downpour and the energetic entrance of lead singer John Allen, who ran to the front of the stage swilling a bottle of Captain Morgan, notified the crowd that it was time to make their way to the good seats.

The group kept the crowd on their feet for the duration of the nine-song set, racing through songs largely about love, life, rock ‘n’ roll and exotic dancers. Staying true to his promise of strong crowd interaction, Allen paused the show to take pictures of the audience, before tearing into the band’s most well-known material at the set’s end.

Pier Six patrons waved their arms for the smoky power ballad “Best of the Worst,” pumped their fists for the adrenaline-driven “Unstoppable” and sang along to “Man of Constant Sorrow” loudly enough for Rusty Scupper diners to hear over the water and through the glass.

All together, the hirsute five-piece kept up their enthusiasm, along with the crowd’s, as well as they’ve kept their hair over the years.

As the lights went down over the harbor, Australian power trio Sick Puppies took the stage for an 11-song set. Charismatic lead singer Shimon Moore, sporting a black T-shirt, red guitar and uninked arms, offered the most clean-cut presence of the evening, occasional middle fingers and F-bombs notwithstanding.

The band’s harmonies matched its contrasting imagery, with Moore’s arena-ready wail mixing with the gothic pitch of bassist Emma Anzai to produce a radio-ready sound with just enough darkness.

For her part, Anzai’s good looks were a major point of interest, as bathroom commentary and the long line of post-show autograph-seekers would attest.

Shimone led the audience through songs from the band’s first three albums as well as a brief interlude from its new album, a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” and a piece of Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” at the end of “Riptide.” Sick Puppies closed with its chart-topper “You’re Going Down” before making its way to the queue of fans waiting near the waterfront.

Seether’s red curtain and chandeliered stage show suggested an intimacy that may have been better suited for an indoor theater, and most of the band’s current tour takes them through such venues, but its 10-year catalog of hits stands alone in any setting.

Shaun Morgan, the South African frontman, took his place at 9:15, a heap of hair, tattoos and sweat. He stuck to his place, stage right, for the duration of the show, crumpled over his guitar and showcasing his familiar vocals. Live, he sounds much as he does on the radio: like Kurt Cobain if Kurt Cobain threw in a few crisp “whoah-ooh-ooh” choruses to contrast raspy verses.

Following a lengthy industrial intro, Seether opened with “No Jesus Christ” before launching into a trio of hits – “Gasoline,” “Needles,” and “Fine Again” from its 2002 major label debut, “Disclaimer.” Another early track, “Broken,” first popularized as a duet with Morgan and his goth-rock ex-girlfriend, Evanescence singer Amy Lee, was pared down to its original form.

Following a drum solo, more recent fare such as “No Resolution,” and “Country Song” filled the middle of the set. The band rollicked through the hits without so much as a pause, only stopping between its penultimate and closing songs, “Fake It” and “Remedy,” to thank the crowd for their support.

For their part, the audience — suddenly dominated by a sea of black T-shirts — swayed, hopped and clapped along to Seether’s trademark blend of somber, anger and sing-alongs. At 10:30, Morgan signified the end of the night by clubbing his microphone with his guitar and walking off stage, as the crowd, too, wandered off into the early autumn breeze.

Set-lists:

Charm City Devils

“Spite” “Let’s Rock-N-Roll (Endless Road)” “Start It Up” “Love N War” “Devil is a Woman” “True Love (Hell Yeah)” “Best of the Worst” “Unstoppable” “Man of Constant Sorrow”

Sick Puppies

“Odd One” “Cancer” “World” “All the Same” “Maybe” “Mad World (Tears for Fears cover)” “Riptide (‘Bulls on Parade’ medley)” “New Song (instrumental)” “Nothing Really Matters” “War” “You’re Going Down”

Seether

“No Jesus Christ” “Gasoline” “Needles” “Fine Again” “Broken” “Drum Solo” “No Resolution” “Here and Now” “Tonight” “Country Song” “Rise Above This” “Fake It” “Remedy”