Because my husband is made of win, I was gifted with an early birthday present of tickets to see Aaron Lewis in a solo, acoustic show last night at the Midland in Kansas City. This means I was able to see one of my all-time favorite singers TWICE in the space of about five months. Unreal.
I’d never been to a solo, acoustic show before. Like most music lovers, I’d seen the Storytellers shows on VH-1, and I’ve downloaded just about every acoustic performance I get wind of (thank you, iTunes). But even with all of that “preparation,” I had no idea what to expect. The Staind fan website had comments and blogs from those who’d seen such a show before and the level of their appreciation and excitement for it was such that articulation of the experience didn’t seem to be all that possible.
I was able to go with a good friend of mine who happened to be in town; the hubs stayed home with the munchkin (birthday gift number two). The venue was amazing—the interior of the theater was gorgeous and beautifully restored to resemble an authentic performing arts theatre with two balconies and an eye-opening chandelier in the lobby. The folding chair seats were padded and covered with red velvet so that you didn’t mind so much having to sit the entire time.
The intimacy of the performance encouraged sitting and listening; however, about 25% of the audience didn’t get that nuance.
We arrived early enough that we were able to warm up and soak in the setting. A single mic was placed center stage surrounded by three acoustic guitars in opened cases, and flanked by a stand with bottles of water. Blue lights illuminated the setting and gave the stage a mysterious, ghostly aura. The audience seats filled quickly; next to my friend and I sat a friendly couple. My friend informed the guy that I was in love with Aaron; I quickly corrected that I was in love with his voice. Much to my amusement, the guy replied, “Yeah, me too.”
Aaron was a few minutes late coming onstage, but it soon didn’t matter. He played for just under two hours and erased any pent up anxiousness that built as we waited. He walked out in jeans, sneakers, and a black T-shirt with something printed on it that I couldn't clearly see. When I’d seen Staind before, opening for Creed at Kansas City’s Sprint Center, we were far enough away that the band looked to be about the size of G.I. Joe action figures. This time, I could see his face. He was smoking a cigarette when he came out—the first of about 425 he smoked that night—and we went nuts.
He selected a guitar and immediately, shouts came out from the audience requesting songs—his and cover songs. He fumbled about on the water bottle-laden table for a few seconds; the stage crew had thought of everything, it seemed, except guitar picks. Whoops.
I didn’t write down the set list, I simply breathed in the sound; I know I won’t have all the songs he played, but I will have the ones that impacted me the most. He opened with So Far Away. It was my intro into how very different this was going to be from the Staind concert a few months back. It’s one thing to hear these songs live—it’s another thing entirely to hear Aaron sing them without the impact of the electric guitar and drums to drive the beat home. The man’s voice is an instrument; the lyrics (at the risk of going purple with this prose) climb inside me and draw out my own personal story.
If you have had any angst in your life—familial, parental, relationship—you will identify with and understand most if not all of the lyrics in just about every song he sings. The cadence of most songs was altered from the album version to account for the fact that it was just him, but it only added to the impact of the words.
Next he went to Please. In my earlier ‘report’ about my first Staind concert experience, I mentioned that this song was a letter from me to my parents. I love the album version; the interior of my car has been gifted with my performance of these impassioned lyrics many times over. But listening to Aaron’s voice slide over and around the familiar notes, stretching out the words, pacing out the chorus—it nearly brought me to tears.
I want a recording of that version. Like now.
This concert was a rather special one, it seemed. Aaron had teamed up with a charity that helped terminally ill children and all of the proceeds of the ticket sales, his paycheck, and everything he sold merchandise-wise was going to benefit that charity. He mentioned it twice during the show, so you knew it meant a lot to him. I hope they were able to raise a good amount of money.
I will say that while being able to listen to Aaron was an experience that won’t be matched, I sincerely hope that the experience of listening to the audience is one that won’t be duplicated. Starting, it seemed, about three rows behind us, people whooped and hollered and called out song titles—including cover titles even after Aaron said he wasn’t going to play covers—and created a general hoopla that, while, yeah, we get it, you love the guy… just shut up already.
I was able to tune it out for the most part, but, seriously, when you mix alcohol and the general public, consideration for your fellow man seems to vacate the premises rather quickly. In fact, at one point while singing Tangled Up In You, Aaron flubbed a line and said, with grudging amusement, that he was getting distracted by the people talking in the back. Even that wasn’t enough of a hint to get them to shut it. Frustrating.
Despite that fact, Aaron’s voice overcame and he sang on. I’d secretly hoped he’d sing my favorite song—the ringtone on my phone when the hubs calls me—Everything Changes, but was prepared to enjoy regardless. When those first chords were played, I had goose bumps.
Again, I want a recording of that version.
Amazing is too common a word for the sound of that rough-edged voice wrapping around lyrics such as, “…I am the mess you chose, the closet you cannot close, the devil in you I suppose, because the wounds never heal.” When he came to the chorus and dropped his head back so that he could fill the auditorium with his unique sound, I shivered. He dropped it down to softly croon the ending. *BRAVO*
Blow Away, Home, Right Here, Anywhere But Here, and The Corner were included in the set list (I know I'm missing several...). He also played one I hadn’t heard but that was pure Aaron Lewis about where he came from and who he was: an American country boy. He prefaced it and one other saying, “This, like all my songs, is a true story.” When he closed it he said that he hoped we liked it because he thought it was going to be the first single from his solo album.
First—solo album?! *squee* and second—hell yeah, we liked it!
He tried to go Storyteller on us when introducing Outside. He got a little bit of the story out before the yahoos in the back whoo-hooed all over what he was saying and he pretty much gave up and started playing. I knew he’d introduced the song in Biloxi with Fred Durst singing the chorus with him. What I hadn’t known was that he basically wrote the verses on the fly, in front of 14,000 people. WHOA. I would’ve liked to have heard more of that story, but, well, yeah.
Still, the crowd sang their bloody hearts out when it came to the chorus. *love*
The stage crew had done a good job keeping him supplied with cigarettes; I think he probably lit up one between just about every song. They must’ve kept burning out as he sang. He used an old-school Zippo that I found to be just very him. The mother in me, though, had me worrying how long his voice could hold out—not just for the show, for the length of his career—smoking as much as he did. To be completely honest, I was surprised that it was allowed in a closed venue like the Midland. But it kept him happy and mellow and able to mostly ignore the yahoos.
At one point, my seat companion called out for Waste and Aaron replied, “You want me to do Waste?” Prompting him—and several others—to think that song was coming next. Instead, Aaron broke out with his only cover of the night: The Rainbow Connection in a fairly accurate Kermit The Frog imitation. BWAH!! Only a Papa could pull that one off. *grins*
Speaking of being a Papa, when he played Zoe Jane, my eyes welled. My munchkin is three and a half and that song put her to sleep many-a-nap when she was an infant. It was fantastic hearing him sing it live—and it sounded exactly the same (not as me, but as how it sounded on the album). Won’t be soon forgotten.
He played another song I hadn’t heard before—and while wildly entertaining during the concert it probably won’t be one that I’d play multiple times, no matter how much I love his voice. Let’s just say bonging was discussed throughout the melody and someone—or several someones—in the crowd responded by toking up. *sighs* Ah, well. What can you do?
When he left the stage, we took our feet and I was reassured that he’d be back when the lights didn’t come up. He returned and told us he had one more song for us, but that we had to sit down and be quiet. I wasn’t sure such a thing could be accomplished.
Never underestimate the power of Aaron Lewis’ voice.
He picked up the stool he’d been sitting on all night and put it at the edge of the stage. Sans mic for his voice or guitar, he belted out a Thank You song. And everyone listened. I kid you not. All of the whoo-hooers, all of the shout-outs, everything stopped. And we listened. And he filled that auditorium. It was awesome.
I’ve now experienced something I thought I would never really see: one of my favorite singers performing live. I am a lucky, lucky girl.
*heads off into Monday with a Staind playlist humming happily in the background*