NEW YORK — Aaron Lewis is a man of few words. During a free concert at the Manhattan Center on Saturday, Staind powered through nine songs before their frontman finally spoke to the crowd. Even then, it was only to announce that the show was being simulcast over the Internet.
As guitarist Mike Mushok, bassist Johnny April and drummer Jon Wysocki played music that churned, brooded and drifted, Lewis slowly paced and circled the stage with the mic glued to his chin. Occasionally, he'd grip his baggy black T-shirt. In other words, he was about as dynamic as a senior citizen waiting for a bus. (Click for photos from the performance.)
Real Staind fans have no problem with this. They know the band isn't about rock star poses or dramatic presentations. It's about heartfelt tunes and emotional expression, and Staind showcased an abundance of both three days before the May 20 release of their third album 14 Shades of Grey. Tickets for the show were given to fans who pre-ordered the new disc during a New Jersey in-store, and also over the radio.
The concert began with volleys of marching beats from Wysocki, and then, as the stage lit up, the band played the dirgey rhythm of "Intro," which was accompanied by trickling guitar parts. Lewis was armed with a guitar, as he was for many of the new songs, and as he strummed the ominous number, he sang a bitter indictment to those who have responded to his aural exorcisms with less than kindness: "F--- you to the jaded and the fake/ Like to see what you would do/ F--- you and the judgments that you make/ We're not all perfect just like you."
With the critics kicked firmly to the curb, the band kicked into its new single, "Price to Play," one of the more energized and infectious numbers on 14 Shades of Grey. Then, to please the kids who were hungry for songs they knew, Staind played four old cuts. For those who just couldn't live without visual appeal, Mushok was pretty entertaining, swaying to the beat during the slow songs and bowing down so far that his guitar dangled at his shins for the fast cuts. When he was upright, he did jumping jack moves with his feet.
The crowd bounced around (though there was no moshing) and chanted along to the chorus of "Open Your Eyes." "Crawl" pitted gurgling monster growls against melodic moans as the band balanced a rumbling riff with an atmospheric mid-section reminiscent of Rush's "Jacob's Ladder." It wasn't the only time Staind evoked the Canadian power trio. The new song "How About You," had a delicate, technical vibe that sounds like something off Rush's 1984 LP, Grace Under Pressure.
Staind's ability to retain a dense, oppressive feel while flirting with other musical styles is one of the band's greatest strengths, and one it implements best when Lewis is playing guitar. The new track "Yesterday" featured a funky backbeat and digital guitar echoes that sounded like a cross between U2 and Duran Duran. And "Layne," a tribute to Alice in Chains' late vocalist Layne Staley, featured vocal harmonies with April that sounded as much like AIC as anything from Jerry Cantrell's last disc. As he strummed, Lewis sang, "You'll never fade/ The word you gave/ My life you saved/ And your name was Layne."
Another new song, "Zoe Jane," is about Lewis' feelings about being on the road away from his daughter, and is equally sentimental, blending power ballad chords and a gentle arpeggio with aching, affected vocals.
There has always been a dichotomy between Staind's rockers and ballads, but as the bandmembers have evolved as songwriters and storytellers, the gulf between their heavy and soft cuts has become even more pronounced. Now there's a world of difference between the explosive, cathartic rush of early favorites like "Spleen" and "Mudshovel" and the more sophisticated strains of the newer material — even though the old numbers still kick live.
This means Staind, for all intents and purposes, aren't even vaguely nü-metal anymore. The news might disappoint those that prefer to rock than wallow, but the evolution isn't at all surprising as the band demonstrated at the show by pulling out Break the Cycle tearjerkers like "Epiphany" and "Outside."
Lewis saved his only crowd speech for the set closer "It's Been Awhile" (there was no encore): "We've been kind of out of the loop for a while. I hope you're enjoying the show."
Good thing he's a better musician than he is a public speaker.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.
Staind's tour, according to the band's publicist:
- 5/20 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Wiltern (free)
- 5/23 - Chicago, IL @ House of Blues (free)
- 5/24 - Indianapolis, IN @ Verizon Wireless
- 5/26 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Post Gazette Pavillion
- 5/28 - Toronto, ONT @ Kool Haus
- 5/30 - Buffalo, NY @ Dunn Tire Park
- 5/31 - Detroit, MI @ Freedom Hill
- 6/1 - Cleveland, OH @ Tower City Amphitheatre
- 6/3 - Columbus, OH @ Promowest Pavillion
- 6/4 - Grand Rapids, MI @ The Orbit Room
- 6/6 - Louisville, KY @ Freedom Hall
- 6/7 - Chicago, IL @ Old Town YMCA Park
- 6/8 - St. Louis, MO @ UMB Bank Pavillion
- 6/10 - Oklahoma City, OK @ Bricktown Event Center
- 6/11 - Albuquerque, NM @ Journal Pavillion
- 6/15 - San Diego, CA @ Coors Amphitheatre
- 6/17 - Las Vegas, NV @ The Joint
- 6/18 - Las Vegas, NV @ The Joint
- 6/21 - Seattle, WA @ The Gorge Amphitheatre
- 6/22 - Portland, OR @ KNRK Radio show
- 7/3 - Atlantic City, NJ @ Grand Canyon Ballroom
- 7/4 - Hartford, CT @ The Meadows
- 7/5 - Saratoga Springs, NY @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center