07 October 2009

Everclear - October 5, 2009

I was extremely lucky to receive free tickets to Everclear's performance at the elegantly simplistic Highline Ballroom on Monday night in New York and even luckier to be off from work and school and have someone to go with on such late notice. To top off my luck, Everclear surpassed my meager expectations and made me proud, once again, to call them one of my favorite bands.

Like some of the rap I've been enjoying lately, Everclear is not typically what one might consider my type of music but upon my first listen in middle school, I was hooked to their deep phrasing and passionate storytelling. Art Alexakis, the lead singer and single constant of the band, can tell a story through alternative rock better than some of our finest folk acts and hip hop stars. This guy has the gift of gab - within a song. Even at 47 years old, he is fresh and the pain still lies deep. Stories of childhood heartbreak, girlfriend overdoses, traumatic nightmares, Volvo driving soccer moms.. no topic is off limit in an Everclear song. It's not only refreshing to hear about personal experiences coming from a place within someone's soul that they're not trying to hide from the public but it's also incredibly moving to be in front of a middle aged man pouring his heart out in songs about some issues other people wouldn't even feel comfortable talking about with their closest friends. It somehow reminds me that we're all just human beings trying - struggling - to get through our day to day lives in one piece.

Everclear's songs have always hit me this way. They say so much within three minutes but it's typically the feeling the words evoke that mean so much to me. Watching Mr. Alexakis up there divulging stories of his daughter taking him to a father/daughter dance and getting up in front of her classmates to give a speech about how proud she is of her dad is one thing but seeing his crooked, embarrassed posture as he does so and how his voice cracks a little when he thinks of how proud he is to have this story to tell - it is just overwhelming. I know it's supposed to be a fun rock show - and I did have tons of fun screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs and dancing like a maniac - but what separates a band like Everclear from any other alt-rock to come out of the '90's is the heart their front man has without ever meaning to. He is doing what he has to do - what he is trained to do. He comes across as so fragile and helpless that I found myself hoping he realizes the amazing ability he has to touch a person's soul. He understands the human condition in a very unique way that most music doesn't ever come close to.

Now, I do have to say this is a far cry from the last time I saw Everclear about a year ago in Camden opening for the Stone Temple Pilots. Art was in rare form yelling about how he's spent too much of his life listening to women and he's not going to do it anymore and seeming more like an angry old rocker than a person ready to explore their human spirit. While they performed pretty decently that evening, it wasn't anything to write about and they were toppled by STP with Scott Weiland at least pretending to be professional.

On Monday, Art was off vocally, which he acknowledged several times, and did seem a bit exhausted most likely from personal problems he mentions more specifically on his blog, but all of the flaws amassed into something that felt one of a kind. I was not disappointed whatsoever. I actually appreciated the vulnerability much more than the flashiness of the typical concert you get these days with over the top nonsense taking the place of real grit and real music.

The set list contributed to the intimate feeling as well. Let the critics say what they will about Everclear "reliving their glory days" but I enjoy hearing tracks from the older catalog of a band I've loved for a long time. Too many artists get caught up in playing their entire latest album and forget entirely about their devoted, long time fanbase that might want to hear the songs that made them fall in love in the first place. Everclear not only played the classics like "Father of Mine", "I Will Buy You a New Life", and "Santa Monica" but Art took to the acoustic guitar to play old favorites like "Strawberry" and jammed on some stirringly unique versions of "Herion Girl" and "Brown Eyed Girl" which he dedicated to his daughter. And while the encore wasn't long enough, "Everything to Everyone" sounded just as good as ever.

I left the venue feeling privileged to have been a part of an audience of die hard fans that truly love and respect an artist, flaws and all.

Photos courtesy of The Aquarian (from different show but same idea).

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