About A Song: Our Lady Peace, BUSH, LIVE, and the Altimate Audience
They were both blonde, and were seated only a few rows from each other. The one closest to me had a picture perfect tan, an impeccable pedicure, perfectly styled hair, and was still shapely enough to cut a great figure in her sundress. The one, seated a little further down, cut just as striking a figure in her indistinguishable band name T-Shirt. Her perfectly disheveled hair and full tattoo sleeve hinted that she existed on a different plane of social reality, at least topically, from the sun dressed blonde a few rows behind her. Yet, here they were about to be fused together within the growing crowd of golf shirt wearing neo-yuppies, casual radio fans, sloshed CEO types, neo-hippies, the occasional Millennial, and a surprising amount of tried and true Gen X’ers who actually were fans of the bands. Yeah. There were actually a few of us there. We’ve changed a bit over the years, but not as much as you might think. We’re still cynical enough to recognize a nostalgia tour, and audience, when we see it, yet honest enough to enjoy it for what it is. What we’re not used to is being surprised, and dare I say it, hopeful, about the future of the bands that were about to play, and in turn our own faded hopes and dreams. The bands, and we ourselves might still have just the slightest chance of breaking out of our shared nostalgia rut.
“Boo! Bring back BUSH!” yelled the neo-yuppies during LIVE’s performance of “White Discussion,” one of their most overtly political songs. Being a particular favorite LIVE song of mine, I was pretty stoked that the band played it and that it wasn’t the set closer. The neo-yuppies, with their requisite clean-shaven mugs and picture-perfect golf shirts, seemed to object to LIVE’s blatant rip on U2’s Zoo TV era “The Fly” video screen barrage of politically charged phrases that accompanied their performance of the song. LIVE resorted to flashing a repeating variety of headlines of which “FAKE NEWS” was prominent. Ah yes, Gen X type snark is alive and well, and still capable of pissing off the mainstream when it isn’t supporting said mainstream (see Kennedy-the nerdy come dreamy MTV VeeJay of our youth-who now hosts a show on Fox News-gasp!) This political talking point digression isn’t the…uh, point…though. The point is that those of all political inclinations were actually in attendance and rocking out to all the songs, that is until the “FAKE NEWS” headline flashed on the screen and they began their chant (highly reminiscent of the jocks’ chant of “NERDS! NERDS! NERDS!” from the now derided Revenge of The Nerds film). They were already bemoaning LIVE’s rather innocuous political statement, something that was much more direct way back in the 90s from bands of their ilk, and often served as a sonic Kryptonite to said future derivatives traders. BUSH, lead by a totally different Gavin Rossdale as compared to the last time I saw them live back in 1994 (yeah, it’s been a while), refrained from overt political statements. BUSH were much more subtle with their politics. You had to be paying attention to suss them out amongst the lyrics and video images. Of course, the neo-yuppies missed all that. No surprise, as they would probably misinterpret the BUSH classic “Testosterone” as a literal glorification of toxic masculinity. They’re a very un-ironic crowd. Definitely not of my generation.
These observations of the crowd and their inclinations, which, along with the blonde and the neo-yuppies, included middle-aged fans gasping for one last breath of relevance from a smattering of bands whose music once (at least in their minds) comprised the soundtrack to their unique, activist, and progressive lives, all coalesced for me thematically at one glaring point in the evening. Just before LIVE’s set began, a repeating set of slides, that can only be described as commercials for the band’s merch, ran uninterrupted on the projection screen behind the stage. I immediately felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he decoded Little Orphan Annie’s secret message. “A crummy commercial! Son of a bitch!” I mean seriously? I understand the need for a band, a 20 plus year old band, to get the word out, especially after their breakup and subsequent reunification. I just assumed that moment could have been taken to make an artistic statement instead, or to preview the music to come in some visual way, or even revisit the band’s past through archival footage. I guess I just didn’t get that it was the perfect opportunity to capture new Twitter followers instead. Man, am I out of touch.
I had to come to terms with the fact that BUSH, LIVE, and Our Lady Peace, weren’t exactly “mine” anymore, nor were they any longer the exclusive property of Gen X. Songs by all three of the bands have been playing in heavy rotation on just about every mainstream rock station in the country for the last 25 years. This is what tried and true Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Who fans (or Dave Clark Five, Deep Purple, and The Byrds fans-if you’d prefer as comparison) must have felt in the 80s. Music that was so relevant to them and served as the soundtrack to a cultural revolution, was now the background soundtrack to a random toss off of a summer night that was filled with merch pitches, drunk bros, and manicured blondes (of both the Yacht Rock and Punk Rock variety). There was one saving grace to the night though, and it came, not surprisingly, from the most likely of sources: the music and performances.
Gavin Rossdale, as alluded to earlier, was a different person as compared to the last time I saw him in a live setting. While he sounded the same, and played guitar the same, gone was the perpetually stoned, shoe gazing, angst ridden (the perfect early 90s “it”performance) persona. In its place was a startlingly active, engaging, and crowd braving lead singer. Most impressively though, Gavin’s band did not stick to a set list of songs culled exclusively from Sixteen Stone, their debut (and biggest selling) album. In fact, “This Is War” off of their 2017 album Black and White Rainbows, was the second song they performed. Yes, “Little Things,” “Everything Zen,” and “Glycerine” rounded out their set, but another newer song “The Sound of Winter” off of their 2011 The Sea of Memories album was featured prominently. Our Lady Peace, who were completely disadvantaged by playing first, only played 6 songs, but lead off with “Drop Me In The Water” off of their latest album Somethingness. It was a bold move and announced to all of us fans who got their early enough to hear them that they were still making new, and worthy, rock music that we should be listening to.
Unlike Our Lady Peace, one of the best post-grunge bands of the last two decades, and BUSH, LIVE didn’t play a single new song. “Heaven,” off of their 2003 album Birds of Pray, which was performed by Ed Kowalczyk during an acoustic solo interlude, was undoubtedly new to most of the crowd, but the band played nothing off their 2018 EP Local 717. Instead the band opted for a duo of covers: “Losing My Religion” by REM and “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones, which Kowalczyk referenced as being around for “four decades or so.” Sounds like he’s not the only one stuck in the late 90s/early 00s mentally (and musically). LIVE arguably has the most widely known catalogue of songs (BUSH’s airplay is basically stuck on Sixteen Stone on radio-both FM and subscription) and therefore the largest amount of songs to choose from for this “altimate” set. I still can’t help but giggle when I see or type the word “altimate.” Speaking of cheap marketing ploys…
LIVE, when they got into the heart of their set though, demonstrated that they still have what it takes to at least recreate, and gently expand upon, their old hits. While “Lakini’s Juice” sounded a bit off (was Chad Taylor’s guitar really in Dropped D for the performance?), “The Dolphin’s Cry.” “I Alone,” and “Selling The Drama” were as powerful live as I remember them being back in 1998 (when I last saw this band). The addition of an extra percussionist and guitarist didn’t do much to expand the sound, outside of recreating the guitar studio overdubs live. The Smashing Pumpkins, with the addition of Jeff Shroeder alongside Corgan and Iha recreate their studio sound much better in their current incarnation. Still, the extra guitar really enhanced the band’s performance of “Shite Town,” which was an unexpected highlight of the set.
Most unexpectedly though, with a few minor exceptions, Our Lady Peace, BUSH, and LIVE managed to fuse what topically appeared to be an audience of polar opposites, both politically and socially, into a mass of head bopping, air guitar playing, bass grooving, and generally exuberant crowd of humans who were happy in one another’s company regardless of their social standing, sexuality, or political inclinations. In the end, it wasn’t just the shared experience of having heard these three bands on the radio incessantly for the last 25 years that melded the crowd into a chorus of aspiring karaoke singers. It was the energy that Raine Maida, Gavin Rossdale, and Ed Kowalcyk, along with their bandmates, somehow managed to conjure in spite of a horrific tour title, merch pitches, and a healthy dose of initially indifferent fans. That energy carried the night, and managed to rekindle in this middle aged Gen X’er a bit of that old “the future is wide open” sentiment that is so missing these days in so many of my and my peers’ lives.
Andy caught Our Lady Peace, BUSH, and LIVE in concert at Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park, Atlanta Ga. It was one of the last stops on the Altimate Tour (and yes he still giggles at that title).