3OH!3, Chain Gang of 1974 and the Pirate Signal Saturday, August 23, 2008 Fox Theatre, Boulder
Having seen 3OH!3 at each of the past two Warped Tours (click here and here for details), I expected more of the same on August 23 at the first of two sold-out Fox shows -- and that would have been fine with me, since Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte have evolved into two of the most entertaining performers in this or any other area code. But something else was on the agenda. The 3OH!3 boys appeared with a full band -- a drummer, guitarist and bassist, plus a DJ referred to by Motte as BFF -- as well as a helmeted, Lycra-suited dancer dubbed Perpetual Thrust. The plan, clearly, was to work out the kinks related to the group's expansion in preparation for its first national headlining tour, slated to get underway in October, and that's a good thing -- because kinks there were.
Granted, no such problems afflicted The Pirate Signal, the initial band on the bill. Frontman Yonnas and DJ Awhat faced a daunting task: The crowd was dominated by under-21 sorts (like my fifteen-year-old daughters, Lora and Ellie, who accompanied me) clad in 3OH!3 regalia, and they didn't start out in a patient mood. Before Yonnas had spoken more than a sentence or two, someone declared, "You're boring!" But that wasn't true in the slightest. Yonnas' exuberance and magnetism proved infectious, and after early sound problems were overcome, the backing tracks spun by DJ Awhat reeled the crowd in and kept them on the hook. Highlights included songs such as "Jiggle It" and "I Can't Wait," not to mention an amusing Yonnas speech that championed Cliff Huxtable over 50 Cent. Ain't nothin' more gangsta than an argyle sweater.
For me, Chain Gang of 1974, which has been tapped to open for 3OH!3 on its forthcoming jaunt, failed to maintain the Signal's vibe. Kamtin Mohager, supplemented by drummer Adam Halferty, poured every ounce of energy conceivable into his Eighties-tastic post-disco dance ditties -- tapping at an assortment of percussion devices (more cowbell!), slamming his bass, and constantly readjusting a knit cap before finally stripping it off to reveal his visage in all its handsomeness. Moreover, his set-capping dive into the crowd from one of the Fox's handrails ended the exhibition on an appropriately wild note. For me, though, the tunes didn't stand on their own. Rather, they merged into a single, undifferentiated groove that, while pleasant enough, grew less and less interesting over time. Still, there's nothing wrong with this Chain Gang that a few good songs couldn't fix.
Then came 3OH!3, preceded to the stage by a synthesized flourish from Ennio Morricone's classic score from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Motte and Foreman were dressed in all-white, as were their new band members. Didn't catch the names of any of the latter musicians, who Motte joked about finding at Match.com, but they looked liked session pros, hired hands -- particularly the guitarist, who Ellie thought she recognized from Katy Perry's Warped Tour ensemble. Don't know about that, since we only caught about fifteen seconds of Perry's set before splitting earlier this summer. Whatever the case, the ax-man appeared to be considerably older than his lasest employers, and when they spotlighted him near the end of the set, he played several seconds of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" -- not exactly the kind of thing that necessarily connects to the 3OH!3 oeuvre.
Fortunately, the songs still sounded like 3OH!3, albeit fuller and heavier -- and that will take a bit of getting used to for fans as well as the two lead emcees; they occasionally had to shout to be heard during passages whose recorded versions feature more air. There's also the matter of live interaction. Motte, especially, tried to include the other players in his onstage antics, but with the exception of his exchanges with the appropriately wacky Perpetual Thrust, these actions lacked the naturalness and easy camaraderie of his rapport with Foreman. For the most part, then, the players served as a backdrop for the main men's antics, as opposed to becoming part of them.
Other rubs: After Foreman blew the cue for "Richman," he had to stop the song and start again. (He confessed his error in a humorous way, and the second go-round scored big.) Shortly thereafter, the boys performed a new country song -- it resembled a Kid Rock outtake -- that puzzled fans more than amused them. Later, the performers left the stage prior to an encore without saying good-bye, leaving the crowd to wonder what was going on for several seconds before the stage lights were lowered. And upon his return, Motte bungled a bit involving the fictional Make a Band's Wish Foundation by goading his drummer to stage-dive after he'd already done so. His confusion was understandable, however. Right before the main set's conclusion, he'd been laying on the stage with his head toward the audience when an over-excited attendee accidentally jammed the microphone into his mouth, leaving him both dazed and unexpectedly pissed off.
Despite these difficulties, however, the concert as a whole still worked pretty damn well. The stage debut of "Punk Bitch" jolted the mob every bit as much as "Electroshock" did, and "Holler Til You Pass Out," "Choke Chain" and a blistering version of "Don't Trust Me" practically caused the theater to blast into the stratosphere. Granted, Boulder boosters were much more forgiving of the occasional rough moments than people in Ohio or New Jersey will be. But the Fox date proves 3OH!3's ambitions to become more than a regional phenom are more realistic than anyone might have guessed a year or two ago. -- Michael Roberts