Sevendust must’ve been eager to plug in and dial up the decibels again, judging from both the ferocity (and velocity) of their ninety-minute set Wednesday night at House of Blues Cleveland.
Just off a lengthy “unplugged” tour in support of their recent acoustic album—Time Travelers and Bonfires—the indefatigable Atlanta five-piece pummeled House of Blues with amplification.
The gig was originally set midway through the stripped-down tour, but routing conflicts resulted in Cleveland being scratched off the itinerary and penciled back in for summer.
“It was just a scheduling thing,” guitarist Clint Lowery assured us during a phone interview back in May. “A couple dates got shuffled around. But we’re excited, man. Excited to get back out to it!”
“We did an acoustic thing a few years ago,” Lowery explained, referring to 2004’s South Side Double-Wide.
The July 23rd makeup date marked the beginning of an exciting new tour, and saw Sevendust revert to its usual arsenal of distorted electric instruments for a full-on, pile-driving, skull-crushingly loud rock show.
Appropriate, given we’re the rock and roll capital of the world.
The quintet capitalized on the fresh start, reconnecting quickly with fans on the fiery “Pieces” (form 2005’s Next) and “Face to Face” (from 2004’s Seasons). Clad in a plaid shirt with cutoff sleeves, drummer Morgan Rose was a dervish behind the drum kit, red-tinted braids flailing with his arms on “Till Death” (from 2013’s acclaimed Black Out the Sun) while bassist Vince Hornsby kept the rhythm engine pumping on four-string.
Lowery churned out crosscut riffs and searing leads on guitar on throwback favorite “Denial,” whose chorus was taken up by the eager audience. Across the stage, co-guitarist John Connolly coaxed equally powerful chords from his instrument on “Praise” and “Karma.” At times the two-six stringers (both with short black hair, prodigious tattoos, and bulging biceps) looked like mirror images—guitar brothers from different mothers.
If the Sevendust fraternity has a leader, it’s soulful singer Lajon Witherspoon.
Dressed in his usual tailor-patched jeans and denim vest, the burly vocalist looks intimidating, and his stage presence is imbued with no small amount of authority. But Sevendust diehards know Witherspoon is as humble and approachable as lead singers come: He’s a down-to-earth rock star who uses his status to build bridges with audiences instead of platforms to distance himself from them.
Witherspoon made quick work of greeting his Cleveland constituency and lifting their spirits, channeling his strength and energy into his hand-held microphone while banging his head or boogying across the stage, dreadlocks whirling to the gargantuan grooves. Between songs, Witherspoon cozied up to the near-capacity crowd with relaxed banter and intriguing—or amusing—reflections. He also made a point to recognize certain revelers, like the youngster with his parents down front:
“Happy birthday, young man!” chimed Lajon, noting the boy’s sign.
The decibel-pushing hit parade continued, with Witherspoon heading up the charge on “Got a Feeling,” (with Lowery on acoustic guitar), an emotive “Angel’s Son,” and uproarious early hit “Black” (from the band’s 1997 debut). Hornsby helped maintain the party atmosphere by flinging one of Rose’s drumsticks to somebody in the balcony. Both Lowery and Connolly flicked spent guitar picks into the throng as souvenirs.
Sevendust enjoys a rabid core following on the North Coast, having cultivated a loyal Ohio fan base with a fairly consistent album / tour cycle dating back some sixteen years. They played Jacobs Pavilion last summer (with Shinedown) on the Carnival of Madness Tour and The Agora with Asking Alexandria over the winter but remain a regular attraction at House of Blues.
So regular, in fact, that singer Lajon Witherspoon already knew where he’d be getting his kicks when the Sevendust tour bus pulled down Prospect Avenue.
“I like those bowling lanes you guys have over there,” said Witherspoon, referring to The Corner Alley on E. 4th Street.
The vocalist doesn’t take success for granted. On the contrary, he reciprocates the adoration audiences lavish upon him and his mates, never quite taking advantage of their openness with patronizing speeches or belittling comments about other acts—or much of anyone or anything else outside the auditorium. Indeed, during some of his prefatory comments at House of Blues Witherspoon sounded like he was asking permission to play certain tunes, in a polite, “Would you like to hear–?” tone.
Granted, Sevendust would likely have gone with whatever tune appeared next on the running order, but the response from the folks jammed into the standing-room only pit was never anything less than vociferous—and unanimous.
Accordingly, the club was whipped into a very willing frenzy by “Enemy” and “Strong Arm Broken.” Recent single “Decay” rounded out the main set with a ferocity that seemed unmatchable—and yet Witherspoon and co. did just that with encore “Splinter” (from 2010’s Cold Day Memory).
Lowery sounded a little nostalgic when discussing the Time Travelers CD weeks before the Cleveland gig:
“We had a lot of people asking whether we were going to do another tour like that,” he explained.
“So we figured it would be cool to go into the studio and record some new tracks, and maybe retool some of the old songs. Everything kind of lined up.”
Choosing which songs received an acoustic makeover wasn’t easy; Sevendust had nine previous studio efforts ripe for cherry-picking. But the boys got help from their fans, who whittled down the list of candidates by voting on Facebook.
“It was grueling at first, because there were so many options,” acknowledged Lowery.
“We have like 130 songs in our catalog, so it was tough picking the ones we’d do. But with help from the people, it narrowed things down for us!”
Sevendust were preceded onstage by the Gemini Syndrome, a hard-hitting L.A. quintet fronted by white-haired vocalist Aaron Nordstrom (ex-Otep). The group delivered a forty-minute set of bludgeoning groove-metal from their new Warner Bros. album, LUX, while bathed in scarlet red and purple lights.
Bassist Alessandro “A.P.” Paveri (who has tats and piercings on his face) looked dark and menacing but cemented a solid low end, sometimes brandishing his instrument as one would an upright bass. Guitarists Rich Juzwick and Mike Salerio conjured see-sawing riffs and percussive chord patterns over Brian Steele Medina’s turbocharged drumbeats.
But Nordstrom was the preacher who bellowed between the staccato blasts. The mix might’ve sounded angry, but Gemini Syndrome’s message centers on positivity and empowerment. At one point the singer encouraged onlookers to distinguish themselves in the world with their talents, or turn quirky personality traits into advantages.
“Everyone’s got a devil inside them,” Nordstrom surmised. “It’s what you do with that devil that counts.”
Not content to hide in a cave following his high-energy set, Medina ventured inside the barricade, where he posed for photos, signed autographs, and stamped fan’s arms with the band’s distinctive, tattoo-ready logo.
We overheard a female fan down front compliment GM’s work ethic.
“That’s how you do it,” she said approvingly. “You come out and connect with everybody.”