5 Mar 2012: Rams Head Live Baltimore, MD
Artists and musicians last because of their original voice and contribution. This becomes the artist’s signature and appeal. Chevelle fans demonstrate this attraction: they filled three shows in the Baltimore-Washington area within the last six months, even in a Great Recession.
And speaking of economics, you can only see so many shows during a typical week, even if you prune back sleep and use some sick days. Now, it’s a full-time job just keeping up with contemporary music with thousands of songs being released every year. Since the late ‘90s, Chevelle continues to gather new listeners, prove themselves as a consistent, relevant rock trio, and make music that matters. And that aforementioned signature sound is due to the passionate songwriting craft of Pete Loeffler and his brother, Sam, pounding the backbeat. Younger brother, and bassist, Joe hasn’t been with the band since 2005. Since then, Dean Bernardini contributes his bass-guitar skill. His playing and vocals are a natural fit.
Chevelle’s use of the basics—guitar, bass, drums, and vocals—is an example of rock mastery. Played live, their songs, with ringing, sometimes chunking guitar chords and dancing, melodic bass lines, convey even more power and energy than their studio versions, as if that were possible or necessary. Vivid, passionate lyrics and vocals are central to the band’s overall appeal. Similar to other guitar-heavy bands like Collective Soul and classic rockers, Queen, for example, Chevelle balances aggressive, percussive chords with melodic vocals. Hats Off to the Bull (Epic Records), their latest release, embodies all of the above and is evidence of the group being at the “top of their game”. Veterans of Ozzfest and other festivals, touring is nothing new to this band.
However, it would be interesting to see the trio stretch their sound and recording routine, although the production quality of HOTTB is excellent. Think of the possibilities if they worked with Danger Mouse or Beck or at least tore down some of the polish to reveal even more raw energy. Led Zeppelin, one of their influences, explored new music territory and instruments, and even Van Halen showed a dynamic range: consider “Jump!” and “Unchained”. Until that happens, if at all, Chevelle is using what works. Why not?
A few minutes before 9:30 pm, Chevelle hit the stage and Pete showered the crowd with affection and bottled water, as the group moved confidently through a well-considered set-list, including, of course, songs from, Hats Off to the Bull . Older tunes, including “Vitamin R”, “Jars”, “Sleep Apnea”, “Wonder What’s Next”, “The Red”, and “Send the Pain Below”, were tour-polished, to which the audience enthusiastically sang along, shouting the lyrics in an impressive chorus. Newer tunes included a searing “Hats Off to the Bull”, “Envy”, “Clones”, and the encore closer, “Face to the Floor”. Speaking of middle-class ruts, this latter tune speaks to the struggle of being a citizen of conscience and compassion in today’s culture; it even includes a reference to defrauder Bernie Madoff.
Two additional acts opened up the Baltimore show. Chicago’s alt-metal band Janus delivered some hard-driving rock with melodic vocals (sometimes operatic, sometimes screaming), a variation on the Chevelle style. Playing a tight, short set, including their recent single “Stains”, Janus appeared to win respect from the Rams Head Live crowd, based on audience reaction, providing a solid show opener and warm–up, especially for a Monday night crowd.
Also on the bill was Middle Class Rut. Think Perry Farrell meets White Stripes meets Led Zep. Interesting. Loud. Beyond powerful—energy was in no deficiency from this heavy, yet melodic duo (guitar, drums). Their “New Low” has been in heavy rotation on the airwaves, and it sounded great live, so did “Busy Bein’ Born” pleased the crowd, too. However, the use of pre-recorded effects and electronic sounds was disappointing by both Janus and MC Rut. MC Rut’s roadie had to tweak (tone down) the reverb effects at least once.
Overall, it was a lively, energetic show. And even as Chevelle’s bassist, Bernardini, suggested that the crowd “pretend it’s Friday night”, the gathered didn’t need to pretend. Through their hour-and-a-half gig, neither did Chevelle. The baptized and converted demonstrated the essential energy and vibe that sustains artists. As evidenced by the sold-out venue and the electric audience, Chevelle’s show illustrated the power and importance of music during challenging economic times. Hats off, gentlemen!