I must admit to being a newcomer to the sounds of Blue October. Always open-minded to sonically trying new things, on checking out their back catalogue I was quite surprised to be familiar with a couple of their songs. Hard to define in terms of musical genre or style, their earlier dark sonic efforts had seemed to be replaced in recent times by a more upbeat style, while at the same time extolling a positive message of hope. The original tour had to be rescheduled from September last year, which helped to build up an air of anticipation ahead of the band’s show in Manchester. I had the opportunity to chat to singer Justin Furstenfield prior to the band’s soundcheck and I found him to be a very friendly and affable character. Awaiting admission to the venue, I was surprised to witness quite a diversity in the band’s audience, traversing age and generations.
Support tonight were Wildwood Kin – a touch on the light side for my own personal tastes but they seemed to win over the almost sold-out Ritz venue. Highlighting an element of folk, they reminded me in part of early Fleetwood Mac with their sweet dual vocal harmonies. With a quick turnover, Blue October were soon on stage and bursting into “I Want It” from their album, Home, released last year. Justin had indicated to me in our chat beforehand that the band would be playing an extensive set and it would be dipping into all the bands album releases to date. While it didn’t quite hit the total amount of songs that he alluded to, the set did include seventeen songs from the Blue October songbook.
I had expected Justin to offer a quiet and introspective delivery of his songs that reflected the struggles of his former addictions and previous mental health difficulties. However, he was largely animated and energetic throughout the stage performance. Many fans seemed to show in their facial expressions and unspoken faces that a lot of them seemed to have identified personally with the personal demons that Justin had battled. He referenced these openly and honestly in transparent sharing with the Manchester audience. I have been to many concerts and in a variety of musical genres, however the chemistry and connection which Justin had with his audience was almost spiritual at times.
While Justin as band leader/vocalist was the main focal point of the performance, the other elements that make up Blue October – including Justin’s own brother, Jeremy on drums – all made a solid contribution to the experience. The diversity of Ryan [Delahoussaye], for example, as a multi-instrumentalist was clearly witnessed as he moved effortlessly between keyboards, guitar and even violin. However, for the most part they were content to step back from the spotlight and do their own artistic creation largely in the shadows.
Like most bands that portray a hard-edged and energetic live show, Blue October also decide to break up the anger with an acoustic interlude, serving up a chilling “We Know Where You Go” that, for me, was the highlight of their set. Quite a departure for this hard rocker – perhaps I am indeed mellowing with age.
In no time at all, however, the band had exited and departed the stage. Unusually early I thought, “what had happened to the much-promised “twenty-seven” song set?” However, reservations were quickly displaced as Blue October played an extended encore of some five further songs. Choosing to exit with the upbeat “Leave It in the Dressing Room” left the crowd alive and vibrating with raw energy. Quite a surprise to me and a new musical introduction…and yes, I even came out of the venue with both a copy of their latest CD, and also a tour shirt. A convert to the Blue October gospel.