BLUE OCTOBER @ The Regency Ballroom, San Francisco – Thurs. June 9, 2016
It’s always a great feeling to discover new music, especially when hearing it live for the first time, in full glory. That was the case on June 9, at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. That was when I first discovered Blue October, a band that has enjoyed a 21-year existence already, with a sizable cult following. I had heard of Blue October before, but only in passing, although I had actually heard their music at times on the radio. But this time I was there to really pay attention, to see what the excitement was all about, and boy was I pleasantly surprised.
Beginning with a moody intro, the band launched into an emotionally charged “I Want It” from the latest album, Home, which was met with a Beatlemania-styled deafening applause, which was quite impressive considering the venue was only just over half full. (Apparently this show had to contend with a Bob Dylan concert and a Sharks game in town on the same evening, which some felt cut into the attendance.) This was followed by the title track to the just previous album, Sway.
As I watched, now mesmerized not just by vocalist / songwriter Justin Furestenfeld, but the band as well. During the third song, “Say It,” the music was already swirling in my head, captivating me. By this point, I had become a new fan, and was already swaying to the sounds. As I watched, I couldn’t help but notice that Justin’s mannerisms very reminiscent of an early Bono of U2, with his reach out and connection with the audience. He wasn’t just a performer, he was a true front man, in almost evangelical fashion. But then it dawned on me that Justin as well had the sound and feel of early post-Genesis Peter Gabriel as well, in voice and substance. Putting those two influences together makes for a powerful performance and visual. But at the same time, I was wondering why Blue October wasn’t more popular, why not bigger on the mainstream. Perhaps it was the lyrical topics, perhaps too heavy and burdened for the average listener who wants something more light-hearted in standard “rock topics.” If that’s the case, people are definitely missing out. This is a band that creates not only well crafted music, but puts on a definitively excellent concert as well.
By the time the band played one of their biggest hits, “Into The Ocean,” Justin addressed the crowd several times during the show, addressing himself as a self-described “drama king,” while explaining some of the song meanings, and also acknowledging the pain that went into many of the songs. At one point, he told the crowd that while the songs originally were about his pain and mental sufferings – having dealt with severe depression and schizophrenia – he had turned his focus onto the pain of others, to help them relieve the suffering. This was met with a heartfelt appreciation by the fans as he introduced a song for everyone to simply “let it all go” to. He pointed to a fan, saying, “You. I see you.” after which, I was told by someone next to me, “When he just said that, he probably just saved someone’s life.” This was attributed to the powerful messages in Blue October’s songs, and how much the band connects with fans who are going through personal issues, and how the songs help to identify the pains, but also offer a hope and mental ways out.
A good way to view this show was not just as a rock concert, but almost as a soft of “healing” clinic where, instead of counselors and psychiatrists, the fans with issues get to share in the pains with the vocalist, and there is a mutual bond of trust and respect between them, that allows healing processes. Apparently many fans view Justin as a sort of “shaman” or “healer” whose messages offer understanding. And the live performances add so much more to that aspect, with the exchange of live energy and urgency that lives need to be changed and saved, and music can truly be the answer. Many others would definitely agree with that thought, going back to the early days of Woodstock, that music is a healing power, and a connector of people. This Blue October show definitely showed that, which is a hopeful sign for younger generations.
Another aspect I became very impressed with, was the mixing of genres within the set. From moody to heavy to flourishes of hip-hop to alternative, it was all very inviting, while tying everything neatly together. This made for a show that had no boring lulls, no “bathroom break” moments. It was non-stop required viewing throughout.
Towards the latter part of the set, Justin gave a big thanks to Matt Ostrander, who was the replacement lead guitarist (filling in for the suddenly departed C.B. Hudson) who had one day to learn the entire band musical catalog. And he did a fantastic job. No one would have known, if not for the mention. At that, the band performed a very grooving “Houston Heights,” again off the latest album, followed by the ethereal “Coal Makes Diamonds” before leaving the stage.
After a few minutes wait, and a very enthusiastic yet patient crowd, the band came back to play “Conversation With A Radio (Do You Ever Wonder),” “Worry List” from Any Man In America before launching into arguably their biggest hit, “Hate Me,” which again was met with an ear-splitting applause. The final song was very heavy, yet grooving, “Leave It In The Dressing Room (Shake It Up).” At that, the band took a few moments to acknowledge the fans and give a heartfelt thanks before leaving. While someone mentioned to me that there were several other hits that the band did not play, it didn’t seem to matter as we left thinking this was a very satisfying show that ended with a new fan in me, who also appreciates the purpose that Blue October serves overall.