SEVENDUST BRING THE HEAVINESS TO NEW JERSEY
If you were to sit down and take the heaviest songs Sevendust has written over the course of their soon-to-be six album career, the list of songs you would come up with would more or less be the setlist they played last night at New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom. “We are Sevendust, and we’re still heavy as fuck,” seemed to be the band’s message; “Forget we ever did Animosity or Seasons. Here’s some new stuff and some old stuff, but never mind that crap in that middle.” Combine the uber-heavy song selection with a newly reinvigorated playing style that somehow just SEEMED heavier, and this is the new Sevendust; heavy, angry, still at the top of their game, and in many ways just like the old Sevendust, bringing big stage production on tour and an “A”-game show every single night.
The band came on stage in total darkness to the Nine Inch Nails song “Something I Can Never Have” blaring through the PA, which played through in its entirety while the band got ready and took their spots. From memory, the setlist was as follows:
7. (new song)
8. (new song)
9. Too Close to Hate
12. Rumble Fish
1. Driven (new, from Alpha)
3. Alpha (new, from Alpha)
4. Face to Face
Quite a set list. As you can see, the majority of the material is from Home, and even their self-titled debut album. Animosity and Seasons only got two representatives a piece, which as the heaviest tracks from those albums were the tunes you would expect the band to play from those works (in the case of Seasons they played exactly the same two songs last time I saw Sevendust on the Next tour). From the band’s song choice and from recent press, it genuinely seems as if the band would like to forget that chapter of their career, claiming that label pressure from TVT to deliver more commercial sounding material pushed the band in a direction they didn’t wish to go.
Freed from the reigns of TVT, Sevendust is back to the heavy, with new guitarist Sonny Mayo providing an additional element of guitar/drum synchronization. It’s remarkable, really, how many good, heavy songs with fist-pumping choruses this band has. They are now at a point in their career where they can play a full headlining set with all recognizable songs. In the first break of the night, singer Lajon Witherspoon, sporting his newly re-grown dreads (keep ’em, Lajon, you look better this way) addressed the audience, proclaiming “It’s so great to be here. I know I’ve said this before and it sounds cliche, but Sevendust shows aren’t just concerts, they’re family reunions, and I feel privileged to be here and still doing this six albums into our career.”
Longevity was an apt theme for the night. The Starland Ballroom seemed like a small room for Sevendust, and looking at the rest of their tour routing it is definitely on the small side of venues the band is playing. Witherspoon even remarked as such at one point. But the fact of the matter is that it is impressive that Sevendust is still able to play at this level 10 years into their career while coming from a musical movement that is mostly dead at this point. Their fan-base is extremely loyal — Sevendust fans LOVE Sevendust; they love this BAND, unlike so many of today’s music fans who only fall in love with a song and not the artists behind it. Find me a Limp Bizkit or Korn fan, or a fan of any of the other first wave nu-metal bands that are as devoted to the band as Sevendust’s fans.
It is precisely this fan dedication that has allowed the band to continue on this high level for all this time. The crowd last night was so appreciative and enthusiastic. The rooms may be a little smaller now, but the band still brings big production. They had a full lighting rig with several dozen cans and a good number of intelligent lights and strobes, as well as a full stage getup including ramps behind the drum riser which almost certainly had to be scaled back for this particular show. This equipment and the stage hands required to transport and run it all can not be cheap, and it begs the question how much money Sevendust can actually make doing a show of this size. But, I digress. The stage production was amazing, adding to the incredible tightness and performance of this band. And then there’s Morgan Rose.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Morgan Rose has the best pocket of any drummer playing metal today. He is the reason this band sounds so good. Sure there are guys who play faster, play more technically, play harder, even play more METAL; but none have the GROOVE of Morgan Rose. Rose just lays back, playing ever-so-slightly behind the beat instead of all over it, giving the songs a groovy feeling that makes you FEEL the music. Morgan Rose is the Sevendust X factor — he slows the songs down to a groove that just makes the music so unique. That fact that he is able to do this while still hitting the drums incredibly hard AND sing is incredible. He is also really fun to watch (but what was up with that surf suit, dude?). Morgan Rose, I love you.
Lajon Witherspoon seemed to be a bit tired vocally at times. Many of the songs from the new disc that I’ve heard have vocals that are much heavier and more aggressive than most recent Sevendust material. To go with this theme, Lajon also seemed to be singing the old songs in this style, and I wonder if this put a strain on his vocal chords. Sometimes he was spot on, but other times he seemed content to scream a part rather than sing it, or just let the audience help him out. I love Lajon as a vocalist and as a stage performer, but I think his vocal performance last night was a little sub-par.
On the new material: it’s always hard to judge new songs in a live setting, but what I heard I liked. I can’t wait to hear these songs more when the album comes out next week.
Will Sevendust make it through to the other side? Nu-metal has never been as uncool as it is right now, and while Sevendust was always a cut above standard issue nu-metal they have always been and always will be lumped into that category. That Sevendust is still playing at this high-level 10 years and six albums in is a testament to the fact that they will remain. What’s to stop them now? Sevendust have never compromised themselves by doing package tours, support slots, or anything other than a full-fledged Sevendust headlining tour with all the bells and whistles. Their last record sold “only” 170,000 units, but on the right record label they’d be making decent money at that number. If they can just make it through this tough period they will certainly come out on the other end, especially if they continue on this newly revived heavy path that seems to be pleasing their fans. Long live Sevendust.
Hear two new Sevendust songs “Deathstar” and the single “Driven” on their MySpace page.
Visit the official Sevendust site.
Thanks to Metal-Rules.com for the above photo of Lajon Witherspoon.
Also thanks to the folks over at the forum on FieldofSolitude.com for correcting the above setlist.