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Sevendust celebrates its rousing return to Utah

Review and photo by Max Parker Dahl

SALT LAKE CITY–A taut mixture of anxiety and animosity hung in the air; an intimidating crowd full of chains, leather and hair filed through the doors in The Venue for the Harddrive Live tour, but things aren’t always what they seem at a heavy metal concert–especially on a Tuesday night.

There were familiar elements: monitors were deafening, lights streaking across the steel darkness, people looking for and finding fights—black from head to foot and sweat-drenched, haggling merchants, and bathrooms reeking of sanitary disks in urinals. This was a metal concert. But instead of a Hell’s Angels-inspired skullduggery, it was reminiscent of old ladies at a high school reunion, giggling over memories of 2002, the last time Sevendust played in Utah.

“There are very few shows that I would never miss,” Mike Sletten said, “But Sevendust back in Utah!? I had to be here!”

The opening acts were energetic and interactive, and the crowd paid them with feverish participation and applause. The musicians were very much pleased. “This is a Tuesday?”

I crossed myself and dove into the throng, prepared to be pulverized, but was shocked to find that the crowd was accommodating and downright cordial. When a fellow heavy hitter in the mosh-pit took a spill, responsive hands made sure that they were scooped up. Moving through the crowd was like a 16th century ball: a simple “pardon me” and bow allowed me to waltz to the barricade in less than a French minuet.

Sevendust, the long-awaited headliner, has been touring and gaining a loyal cult following since 1994. The Atlanta quintet came out with anticipated intensity and split the evening open with their hit Splinter, the opener from their new album, Cold Day Memory. The timing and musicianship was flawless throughout. The crowd fawned over attentive vocalist Lajon Witherspoon as he beckoned them forward and fondled the fidgeting fingers of those jammed against the barricade. There was a healthy mixture of hits spanning their eight albums.

Instead of being fueled to violence by the aggressive music, people were having cathartic and celebratory moment. It was too calm for my idealized vision of a metal concert. Witherspoon paused and said, “Can you feel the serenity?”

People just smiled and soaked in the music. There were a few occurrences that reminded me that I was still at a heavy metal concert: the face-melting guitar solos (one involving a boot), infernal screams from stage and incited shouts from the crowd, and a few good punches thrown. No paramedic or riot squad was called. Very few crowd surfers, and people typically gave each other ample space. Perhaps there wasn’t enough aggression this early in the week, or it was perhaps a more mature group I was bumping elbows with.

All of the acts were generous with their coveted merchandize, throwing scores of guitar picks to eager fans, selling autographed drumheads, and it seemed like everyone ended up with a drumstick. It was like blood in the water when 10 Years threw t-shirts into the crowd, but people shared. These hardcore fellas were quite affable, despite the metal stereotype.

Passes to meet and mingle with Sevendust afterward were offered, and an excited gaggle of two dozen patiently waited for their moment to reconnect where their lives had intersected with Sevendust. Every person had two or three minutes with every member, one-on-one time to share stories from concerts past. I was skeptical of their perfect memories until Witherspoon recalled our interview from weeks ago and followed up on a few points of conversation. It was the most genuine and heartwarming meet-and-greet ever recorded as autographs and photo ops were shared long after the stage was cleared.

Drummer Morgan Rose stayed an additional hour speaking technical with an avid fan and fellow head-beater, answering questions and recalling memories from the tour. “The last time we were in Utah was eight years ago, and I didn’t think anyone would be here,” Rose said. “I was blown away with all the people who showed up and rocked out!”

Promises were made by Sevendust to return to Utah more frequently, now that a change in management has been finalized.

“We love being here! We felt enough energy to play Strong Arm Broken,” Rose said, “It is my favorite song on the album because we recorded it separately. It’s only the fifth time we have ever played it and we are still learning how to play it together and keep it tight.”

Mark your calendars for the next time Sevendust comes to Salt Lake, you may be surprised at how much fun you can have.

NW