There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who can be open-minded about Creed and those who cannot. It's fair to say that the majority of the mainstream media falls into the first category, and perhaps for good reason: The '90s all-stars have had almost two decades to prove their point. But to write off its blowhardery would be to ignore the people in the velvety, semi-packed seats of the Paramount Theatre last night. And if you are attending a Creed concert in 2012, more than a decade after the Christian rockers transformed from pop culture saviors to dudes with god complexes, you are getting exactly what you're paying for. And you're paying for rock.
That rock includes the next generation of Lord-praising angst-rockers with heavy-handed devil metaphors. New Zealand outfit Like a Storm looks like Mötley Crüe and sounds like Godsmack, while Eve to Adam pens curse-word Christian lyrics referencing Satan while retaining the gall to cover Alice Cooper's "School's Out." Between the two of them, they had roughly one hundred guitar picks, which they tossed (like a storm) into the crowd.
Thank God (no pun intended), then, that Creed happens to have a song called "Are You Ready?" The rowdy Human Clay and live show opener functions as an unapologetic call to arms, particularly when you A), witness the amount of chest-pounding and rock-fisting Scott pulls together before he even sings, and B), you are ready. The track literally counts its audience into amped mode while presenting Scott with the ability to sum up the band's life story even as he redrafts it: "Heroes come," he growled into the mike, whipping it around much like a limp water hose, "and heroes go."
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Human Clay, the album Creed played in its entirety last night, sold almost twelve million copies in the U.S. alone and served as the intro to the band's radio heavy-hitter Weathered and then a six-year M.I.A. period in which the act grew apart, broke up and settled into relative obscurity.
In 2009, the outfit came full circle with a reunion tour and an album called, well, Full Circle, and three years later the group re-approached square one, touting its first two albums in sequence across a nostalgia tour of the country. But while Weezer pulled the same stunt with indie gems Pinkerton and the Blue Album, Creed is churning out overloaded stadium rock in the same tapestry-covered venue where David Sedaris once cracked jokes about his vacation home. The performance lacked nothing in emotion (Stapp chewed his bottom lip so consistently, it might be a stunt double), sweat equity (You'd see fewer rock fists at a Dio tribute) and sound quality (every growl reached its most guttural zenith), but it missed the mark in self-awareness.
Throughout the album deep cuts and the non-album hits that augmented them -- "One," "My Own Prison," "One Last Breath," "My Sacrifice" -- Stapp, guitarist Mark Tremonti, drummer Scott Phillips and bassist Brian Marshall channeled their angst of yesteryear. As the reunited quartet and its über-pumped stage guitarist pounded through the hits, the audience took breaks to recover in their seats. And those seats were not full. Left of center, one lonely lighter traced Stapp's figure through the dark as he grinned wolfishly at his cubs. "Are you seeing this?" that gaze seemed to ask. "Check this out."
This is a lighter show in an iPad world, and Stapp is an overtly earnest, occasionally oblivious leading man in a script dominated by blogs and iTunes sales. His deep snarl, which he must practice by chewing marbles and Laffy Taffy without ever reading the jokes, is exactly what it always was, very Vedder, a little overwrought and a lot dynamic. On his knees in the front row, Stapp coos out the intro to "Higher": "I was feeling this song from a fan who visited Denver, and it really lifted me higher, man."
Lunging on the amps a minute later, as Tremonti shreds his guitar like he's slaying a banshee, that same voice puts the power in power ballad. As the night grew longer, so did the amount of effort required to produce that growl, forcing a hunched Stapp to force out bloated turmoil between clenched teeth.
Stapp has different tattoos and a noticeably older crowd, but his haircut is exactly the same. After shaving it as a symbol of his transition from drunken onstage ass-clown to reformed father figure, Stapp looks identical to the former self who fronted stadiums ten times this size thirteen years ago. With muscles stuffed into black pants, a tiny black T-shirt and the same amount of man jewelry it was briefly okay to wear in 1999, Stapp prowled the stage like a panther, breaking the persona only to amplify it.
Scott Stapp wants your applause. He wants you to scream. He wants all of you, together, right now, to fly. He wants to beat his chest. He wants to beat Tremonti's chest. He wants to karate chop the air with all the grace of Kung Fu Panda. He wants to whirl like a dervish -- wrong religion -- until he looks like he's about to tumble face-first into the crowd. He wants to ramble through his thoughts between songs from the pulpit of the stage.
"I still gotta get away and see the faces, man. I don't wanna see his face. Man, I don't wanna see his face." He wants to fling sweat from his retro-curls into the open, screaming mouths of the front row. And if there's one thing time has proven, it's that Scott Stapp gets what he wants.
Stapp gets results. The easiest way to tell a casual, embarrassed Creed fan from a truly devoted Creed fan -- one who might even listen to Alter Bridge -- is to listen to one sing "With Arms Wide Open." Will he sing, "Show you everything?" Or will she mimic Stapp, who she once listened to on the way to school and now blasts on the way to work, and promise to "Show you everythang?" As Stapp took the emphatically literal approach, stretching his wingspan across the stage, his audience got everythang it wanted.
Not that that sufficed. On the way out, even after Stapp shouted "God bless" and the band rock-fisted a few thousand more times, the audience belted "My Sacrifice" a cappella all the way to the street. To break the sincerity, one pedicab driver mocked the crowd, bending the melody to advertise his services. I doubt he got any business.
Personal Bias: There was a brief period in my life, when "One Last Breath" took over the airwaves, during which I considered it sacrilege to leave the car before it finished. You could say I was religious about it.
By The Way: Off-the-cuff banter is not Scott Stapp's wheelhouse. During "One," he encouraged the audience to put its hands up and "Let's fly." Later, he told us about the "shared journey" he and Tremonti took through life. During "My Sacrifice," he asked us, "Are you free?"
Random Detail: One Adam to Eve song rhymes "open door" with "open sore."
Creed Paramount Theatre - 5/19/12 Denver, CO
01. "Are You Ready?" 02. "What If" 03. "Beautiful" 04. "Say I" 05. "Wrong Way" 06. "Faceless Man" 07. "Never Die" 08. "With Arms Wide Open" 09. "Higher" 10. "Wash Away Those Years" 11. "Inside Us All" 12. "Bullets" 13. "Torn" 14. "My Own Prison" 15. "One"
16. "One Last Breath" 17. "My Sacrifice"
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