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(19 Aug 2008: Hard Rock Cafe — New York, NY)

My instincts served me well, if nothing else. At the press-only CD release shindig held at the New York branch of the Hard Rock Cafe for Staind’s newest album, I hovered at the back of the room as the band made their entrance, which went down on an actual red carpet behind an actual velvet rope. (At the time, I thought I was ceding interview access and photo vantage points to people who wanted them, but in retrospect it may have been genuine terror at the thought of Staind even making another album in the first place.) The performance hall was decked out in Bacardi logos, and I hit the open bar as they launched into the set with “Price to Play”—and then I went back again after more or less every song. I don’t know how I’d have made it through otherwise.

See, “tolerable” is about the closest thing to a compliment I can ever muster for these guys, and “Layne” gets filed as such on principle rather than substance; the band’s 2003 ode to the fallen Alice In Chains front man was the only high-profile commemorative for the first celebrity death I remember caring about. But even the spot-on vocal impersonation couldn’t overcome the compositional kludges cluttering up spaces that Jerry Cantrell could have done back flips across.

It’s tempting to dismiss these guys as marketable one-dimensional depression, which is true, but that in itself is not a crippling flaw—in this corner of the rock world, bands like Rage Against The Machine and A Perfect Circle have established themselves as perpetual sourpusses without making it this excruciating, kind of the way Dylan and Dashboard can both make highly verbal music with dramatically different levels of integrity. Then again, maybe it’s the curveballs that others have thrown out that keep things interesting; Nine Inch Nails wrote a song for Johnny Cash fifteen years ago and just made a four-disc headphone album, but the closest Staind actually gets to a surprise is a lonely one-guitar cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page”. Sorry boys, but Metallica owns that one like Cash owns “Hurt”.

Years ago, probably in a Linkin Park review, a colleague introduced me to the concept of the “universal rock you.” This most tortured of indeterminate pronouns infects the lyrics of self-involved modern rock bands, providing a lyrical substrate for the whining in the absence of any other coherent object. Staind has always been one of its most obnoxious practitioners, and though it was in full effect all evening, “For You” definitely took the cake: “To my mother / To my father / It’s your son or / It’s your daughter.” It’s doubtful that even front man Aaron Lewis could rustle up a rat’s ass to give for ho-hum all-purpose anonymity like that. I was certainly having trouble.

Despite all this, there were moments, albeit fleeting and finite. “Outside” still generated the most enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, which says something for a band that has been through a fair number of albums and singles (and probably a midlife crisis or two) since their breakout hit almost ten years ago. I wanted to shout out “I’m feelin’ those lighters, y’all” like Fred Durst did on the 1999 original from the Family Values tour live album, but ultimately opted not to risk a beat-down—the room was seething with spiky-haired dudes who probably fancied themselves metalheads.

Other than the mango mojitos, the most remarkable thing about the Staind CD release show was that they’re still here after all these years, pumping out the same nonsensical faux-depression over the same minor chords, and nobody has called them on it. Like the free liquor, isn’t this sort of stuff supposed to have a short shelf life?

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