Full disclosure time: I’m no metal/hard rock fan. Besides having a healthy respect for Metallica and appropriately getting down when “Too Many Puppies” comes over the jukebox at my local bar, the genre is generally not my favorite. But if any performance could make a believer out of me, it was Sevendust’s Friday night show in Rapids Theatre, Niagara Falls.
It’s hard to know what to expect when a band known for its intensity announces an acoustic show. One of the last legs of Sevendust’s tour to promote its first acoustic studio album, “Time Travelers & Bonfires,” released April 15, the Rapids show was perhaps a bit gentler than previous Sevendust performances. However, “a bit gentler” for this group is still twice as loud and fierce as most others are at full force. Though the guitars were indeed acoustic, they were still amped up and strumming furiously along to keep up with lead singer Lajon Witherspoon’s powerhouse voice. It was acoustic with a caustic bite, something Sevendust managed with style and confidence.
The band’s new album includes a mix of new work and previous songs – chosen by fans – rerecorded acoustically. None of them sounded worse for the wear for the new treatment – in fact, the transformed guitars allowed the songs to shine in a different light than they did in their original manifestations.
Things got started about an hour and a half after the advertised show time of 7 p.m., but the audience at the Rapids – mostly people who grew up with the band over the past 20 years – didn’t seem to mind. First performed were “Trust” and “Prayer,” past favorites that got the crowd moving. Then, guitarist Clint Lowery took the lead on vocals for “Xmas Day.” While his voice first sounded underwhelming compared to the sheer force that is Witherspoon’s, as the song went on he proved he could hold his own. He led again later in the show during the band’s stirring cover of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” and did a phenomenal job.
The show did a great job of balancing pace and mood. There were plenty of fast-moving ragers like “Rumble Fish” and “Karma,” but Sevendust wasn’t afraid to slow things down, either. Keyboardist Kurt Wubbenhorst, playing keyboard throughout the tour and on previous album “Black Out the Sun,” introduced “Disgrace” with a beautiful, delicate bit of playing, which Witherspoon said taught him that “sometimes it’s OK if music breaks your heart.” The guys dedicated “Got a Feeling” to American military personnel, and Witherspoon got visibly emotional as they played “Angel’s Son,” written in memory of their friend James Lynn Strait, a member of the band Snot, who died in a car crash.
Buffalo News critic Jeff Miers called Witherspoon an “uber-frontman” in his preview for this show, and I can think of no better way to describe his charisma and likability. He kept up an endless stream of audience banter, keeping the crowd engaged and screaming for more throughout the 17-song set, broken up by a 25-minute intermission.
Between telling stories from his past and the band’s time on the road and thanking the audience profusely for its support – the new album was funded through an online crowd-sourcing campaign – Witherspoon’s seemingly tireless voice barreled through the songs and his trademark long dreadlocks created a halo as he head-banged through the set.
Things ended with one of Sevendust’s most popular hits, “Black.” Energetic and old school, the song had the crowd dancing, fist-pumping and screaming along.
“This is the coolest thing we’ve done,” Witherspoon said of the acoustic show. “It’s a little bit different, but people seem to like it.”
Judging by the roar of approval, I’d say that’s an understatement.