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Review: Sevendust’s live show melodic, technical, fantastic

September 22nd, 2013 Posted in Arts and Life, Opinion

Story and photo by Paul Christensen

SALT LAKE CITY — Thursday night found me standing in a dark, dank room at In the Venue, waiting for hard rock band Sevendust to take the stage. A sea of black-clothed bodies, surging to the musical rhythm of opening band American Fangs, stood between me and the raised platform where Sevendust would be shortly. I stood apart from the crowd and clutched my camera like a Bible, hoping that it would capture some kind of truth from the spectacle I was about to be faced with.

Rhythm guitarist John Connolly and drummer Morgan Rose get the crowd going. Photo by Paul Christiansen.

Rhythm guitarist John Connolly and drummer Morgan Rose get the crowd going. Photo by Paul Christiansen.

To those individuals who know me even in an acquainted way, it’s no secret that I’m not keen on the hard rock and metal scene throughout Northern Utah. I tend to favor low-key performances; an acoustic guitar and a soulful singer, over distorted chords, aggressive drums and choruses of guttural shouts and shrill screams.

When vocalist Lajon Witherspoon, rhythm guitarist John Connolly, bassist Vince Hornsby, lead guitarist Clint Lowery and drummer Morgan Rose finally appeared before their audience, the entire atmosphere of the evening transformed as if someone had flipped a switch. Several years had passed since the band had last performed in Utah, but Sevendust had finally arrived in Salt Lake City. And everyone in attendance knew it.

The dark room lit up with flashing yellow and purple lights. The crowd uttered thunderous applause and enthusiastic shouts, and Witherspoon — all toothy grin and dreadlocks — looked out across time and space as if everything in his life had prepared him for that single moment.

“It’s good to see you too, Salt Lake City,” he said. “Sevendust is glad to be back.”

The band wasted no time launching into their first song of the evening, “Pieces,” from the 2005 album “Next.” Rose’s clean snare hits and double-bass drum rhythms drove the song, accompanied by the powerful repeated guitar licks of Connolly and Lowery. Hornsby’s bass tones hit those in the crowd firmly in their chests, but that only added to the electric feeling spreading throughout the room.

Rose kept the crowd’s energy up with a short drum solo intro to “Till Death,” a tune from the band’s most recent album “Black Out the Sun.”Lowery impressed the crowd while simultaneously playing a squelching guitar solo and shouting the deep and throaty verses of the song.

“Fractured, slowly closing on me,” he shouted to the crowd. “My world, completely broken.”

With such heavy subject matter fitted alongside just-as-heavy musical accompaniment, a person new to the metal scene would expect to find both fans and musicians with looks of turmoil and anguish wrought across their faces. But that is where Sevendust is outside the norm. Each member of the band interacted with fans throughout “Till Death” and the rest of the show, flashing brilliant smiles and looks of encouragement. And fans returned the gesture. Everyone in the room — band members and spectators alike —  fed off one another’s eagerness and happiness to be somewhere they felt they belonged.

Sevendust brought the atmosphere and energy down in the middle of its set with touching ballads “Got a Feeling” and “Angel’s Son.” Witherspoon sang to the audience but cast his eyes upward as if he was talking to a higher power. “He saved my soul with gratitude and gave his life,” Witherspoon sang. “God really knows us all.”

These ballads allowed Lowery, Connolly and Hornsby a chance to show the talents they possess outside of their instruments. Each of the men harmonized with Witherspoon and at one point delivered a stirring and flawless four-part harmony during the chorus of “Angel’s Son.”

Witherspoon kept interaction with the crowd constant throughout the 12-song set. At one point he lightheartedly poked fun at stereotypical Utah culture, asking if the crowd knew any of the polygamist cast from the hit reality television show “Sister Wives.” The joke was delivered well and struck a note with the crowd, receiving whistles and claps. Witherspoon playfully said “he was down” with having multiple wives, causing female fans to scream with delight.

The Sevendust show was something I hadn’t been very excited for in the beginning. As a journalist I’m often assigned to report on things I personally don’t find to be very interesting. That’s just part of the job and I take it all in stride because it’s work — it gets my name out there and it helps to pay my bills.

But sometimes I learn things from these types of situations.

I was pleasantly surprised at what I found at Thursday’s performance. From the metal music I had listened to prior to the show, I expected a dark room filled with angry people all screaming along to unintelligible noise. What I got was an evening filled with heavily melodic guitar and vocal exchanges, technical and complicated displays from the rhythm section of Rose and Hornsby and a cathartic give-and-take relationship between the band and its fans — a relationship that exhibited the enthusiasm those involved in the metal and hard rock scene feel for music, as well as life.

I no longer wonder how Sevendust has been making such successful music for nearly 20 years. The band’s live show is fantastic, filled with an energy that just can’t be put into words. My writing of the show doesn’t do it justice, and those who haven’t seen Sevendust perform should make sure to take advantage of the opportunity whenever available.

The guys in Sevendust made a fan of me, and their songs will be intermingling with the low-key songs on my iPod’s shuffle for a long time to come — definitely until I catch them in concert again.


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