Ignore them at your peril...
With the ’90s revival already in full swing – on TV, at least – now is probably as good a time as any for a celebration of the grunge era. East coast angst-rockers Staind
and Pearl Jam proudly on
its sleeve. On the morning of this show, it crash-lands at Number One in the UK album charts, in spite of the wave of loathing that greeted the band’s arrival in the country. Clearly, something is afoot.
There’s a real buzz of anticipation inside the sold-out Astoria tonight, and Staind
do not disappoint. They start magnificently: frontman Aaron Lewis slouches onstage to warble the opening lines of ‘Mud’, then freezes, utterly expressionless, as the music explodes around him. It may be the effect of the weed he seems to chain-smoke, but Lewis seems oblivious both to the chaos around him and the adoration of his new fans. It’s exceptionally cool
– as is the pugnacious, hard-rocking set that follows.
Staind ‘s brand of noise may evoke images of lumberjack shirts and unwashed hair, but they are mercifully unencumbered by the pomposity and complacency that blighted the first coming of grunge. Porcine guitarist Mike Mushok limits himself to a single guitar solo the whole night – there’s not an ounce of fat in Staind ‘s tunes. Lewis ‘ lyrics, meanwhile, eschew the elaborate metaphors favoured by
Chris Cornell and Bill Corgan. Instead, he chooses to vent his middle American rage with words that are stark and literal. “I guess my mother never loved my dad”, he muses at one point, with comical matter-of-factness.
Occasionally, Staind do lapse into triteness – the clumsily moralistic ‘Open Your Eyes’ is the chief offender here – and it’s fair to say that Lewis is no Kurt Cobain. Nonetheless, his band do share some of the attributes that made Nirvana great. They’ve got a ferociously hard-hitting drummer, for one thing, and a vocalist whose throaty roar seems to scour every nook and cranny of the venue. Crucially, they’ve also got a knack for writing instantly memorable choruses – ‘Break the Cycle’ is positively stuffed with them.
Perhaps that explains the vast number of fanatical young converts packing the house tonight. There’s certainly no doubting their fervour. When Lewis performs a solo acoustic rendition of ‘Outside’ – which, as a duet with Fred Durst, broke the band on US radio – he is drowned out by lighter-waving teens singing themselves hoarse. During the infinitely more enjoyable rock-outs, the moshpit is a writhing sea of bodies, particularly when Staind
dip into their older material, which largely consists of searing, Pantera-style angst-metal. The set is a perfect blend of loud and soft, angry and sad: indeed, one of the few criticisms that you could level at Staind is that their live show is almost too measured and precise. As with their contemporariesLinkin Park, their sheer professionalism can leave a sour taste. Certainly, Lewis has got his rock poses down cold – he paces lazily about the stage as he sings, caressing his mic with both hands and casting tender, lingering gazes into the audience. The man’s almost too comfortable up there.
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But by the time Staind sign off with ‘Spleen’, it’s abundantly clear that there’s far more to Staind than the gothic doom and gloom that their image suggests. Aaron Lewis may be the ‘King of Pain’, but his band deal in the same visceral, cathartic thrills that made grunge so exciting the first time around. Shun them at your peril.