EDITOR'S NOTE: Dearest End Hits Readers: We take our show-going duties very seriously here. But sometimes we like to mix things up and combine our two true loves in this world: live music and illegal gambling. That was the initial motivation behind 2009's End Hits Concert Challenge, where upon losing a bet, a blogger would be annexed at a show (of someone else's choosing). Since its inception, we've changed the rules some (no more gambling, all End Hits writers must attend a show against their will) but the concept remains the same.
Last month, Good Charlotte had the misfortune of getting sick, which lead to the cancellation of their Portland date that was to be my first Concert Challenge. At first, I thought God had been watching over me, sparing me from an entire evening of mall pop-punk hell with a band of tattooed and pierced twin brothers that canoodle with orange-colored LA celebutantes. But then I realized that God was just saving up for something far more punishing to my ears. And he was working through the soul of my now soulless editor, Ezra Caraeff.
“Here you go. It's all the member of Creed, but with a different singer.”
Oh dear God. No.
I guess I had it coming: Ezra had to endure a night of 311 songs performed by a cover band; the sweet-as-a-peach Raquel had her ears chewed off by death metal; Aris jammed out to Dark Star Orchestra, and Ned saw fucking Korn, Sevendust, and a few other bands beloved by society rejects/suburban bros. Of course my rescheduled challenge would be for Alter Bridge, a melodic modern oof-rock band who was the backbone to Creed, easily one of the most flaccid and trite rock bands I’ve ever had the displeasure of hearing. I really should count my blessings, though, because at least Alter Bridge had some sense not to involve the diaphragm-busting meat turd, Scott Stapp (Scott Staph Infection is his punk name).
Until I decided to do a little research yesterday, I had never heard Alter Bridge. The highest ranking YouTube videos have been viewed in the millions, and here I was, totally clueless to the band’s existence and their credo. I haven’t deliberately listened to any of those modern rock stations that Clear Channel owns since I was a college freshman ten years ago, driving around in a radio-only truck, installing in-ground sprinkler systems. My co-worker (who had a goatee) loved that shit. I thought it was insufferable.
But apparently, people do listen to these guys - enough to fill a good chunk of Roseland Theater on a Thursday night. To be honest, I’m probably not the best one to tell you a difference between Creed and Alter Bridge. Seems to me they both write cliche lyrics to hokey ballads, and arms-wide-open nu-rock opuses. They act tough and heartfelt all the same. Sort of a pity-me, at-my-worst-but-we’ll-get-through-this-together-type of band. This is a harder edged “instrumental sound of Creed” after all. You can’t help but sort of feel a little bit sorry for them.
My dear friend Jenny, bless her heart, decided to brave an experience with the bands on this bill after I pleaded with her to go with me. I offered others money, drinks, whatever. It was bait that was hard to bite. Jenny said she would stay until she had to leave to catch Pains of Being Pure At Heart at Doug Fir. We showed up at 8pm, just in time for openers Like a Storm.
At that moment I noticed they all had long chain wallets. I imagined those chains slowly choking me to death. They threw out CDs and guitar picks and drum sticks to the crowd, who resembled chickens gobbling down freshly thrown feed. The band sounded like one of those bands you’d hear on the radio, with a slightly crabcore “yeeOWWW” in the chorus that seems to cater to the young bespectacled 12 year-old boys standing beside their business shirt-wearing dads. We heard the singer say things like “Just Save Me” and “Never Surrender” and “Do you guys mind if we jam one down?” There was even a less wholesome reference to the mammoth size of the drummer’s penis. Then they closed with a song that went “you will be the death of me / you will be the enemy.” I laughed.
Black Stone Cherry were, by all accounts, a very show-y type of band, who controlled the stage and commanded the audience with cordless stage crosses, synchronized monitor poses, and extra bits of technical stage proficiencies like stick twirling and pick flicking. The guitarist, a blonde, goateed Jesus surfer in a partially unbuttoned black western shirt, looked like Tommy Shaw and Tatum O’Neal’s feisty character in Bad News Bears, and then we had our frontman Jack Black in a v-neck sweater. The music was, well, probably what it’s like on the CD; some distortion, drop-tuning, and lots of wanking, with a practiced studio sheen to it. “MANAGERS AT GUITAR CENTER FORMED A BAND,” I wrote in my notebook, before giving out grades, like the A- for power kicks, a D for flattering/interesting/fun wardrobe, and an A+ for the ability to engage this audience with that hands in the air thing (or are the different magical powers in each of the necklaces that the guys wear REALLY WORKING?). I saw some UFC/TapOut clothing in the audience, which makes sense after my friend Brad told me they were on a cool wrestling video game. They played a song I think I heard as “Blame It On The Boo Boo.” The ending of that song sounded like Big Business. It was weird. Jenny had to leave. I was going to be alone for Alter Bridge.
Without a buddy to converse and make jokes with, I observed the room and noticed a contingent of short stalky white males with goatees and backwards hats, kids carrying around tubed posters and single drum sticks tossed out by the first two bands, bald/balding men, and one pregnant woman. There was another woman in a sparkling gold top flailing her arms and screaming a fever pitch in the balcony when the lights dimmed and the synthy intro to “Slip To The Void” cut into the house speakers.
Alter Bridge emerged from the darkness and they too had a man with that long, flowy, straight, parted down the middle Jesus hair look. They wore tight long black sleeves. They played “Before Tomorrow Comes” and some people were fist bumping each other, totally stoked. I kept updating Ned and Ezra with texts like “It’s a nice night for edgy family entertainment” and “Oh hello, mosh pit!” while thinking the band members were probably the kind of guys who took their kids to Buffalo Wild Wings after a day of shopping, and were actually only doing this to support their families. Protective parents escorted teen couples who obviously were on a date (cute). The crowd was singing and clapping along. I bought a Coke from the concession stand on the main floor. It was all so wholesome. Especially when the singer said “I feel like such a dork” after he silenced a screaming crowd with the command of his hand. They played some stuff that sounded like Faith No More in the key of Creed, and a ballad that said “Our hope is gone.” I couldn’t agree more.
They played their hit, “Broken Wings” (the first song I heard today), and the whole audience got as loud as the amplified microphone during the chorus, giving the song some audible resilience. My whole body started feeling stiff and anxious. I hadn’t really moved along to the music all night, because I have a hard time moving along to music I don’t remotely enjoy listening to. But I looked around, saw everyone having a nice time jiving together, and started to limber up my tapping toes.
There was something genuine about this band and this audience that you never see out of self-aware indie rockers. These people simply like simple music that isn’t too far out of the standard realm. No need to be weird. Sonic sound sculptures can actually be something besides standard hard rock electric edginess, but why bother? The band probably likes Pearl Jam a lot. They played some more songs that people knew. There was a oh-oh-oh-whoa-oh type song, they ripped through some solos, and even had a guitar duel, playing the fuck out of their whammy bar! I wrote “Epic.” Alter Bridge played an encore with some songs that sounded like that other song...no, the other one. Wait, I don't remember. They brought me to the edge. I thought I heard things like “Let It Go” and “We Got To Turn Around.” When the lights came up, I took that as my sign to leave. I’m still not entirely sure what I just saw.