Friday's sold-out Blue October show at Verizon left Aftermath wondering one of the most vexing, troublesome things any reviewer can: "What is it about this band," the voice in our head kept asking over and over again like a car alarm, sometimes even threatening to drown out the band itself, "that we just don't get?" Because it must be something. Something we spent the balance of the onetime Houston band's homecoming show trying to figure out, and didn't get much of anywhere - past wondering how (and why) on Earth everybody in the room knew every last word to every single song. We mean, the songs are pleasant enough, if songs with about the same amount of lyrical self-immolation as the average Goethe poem can ever be called pleasant. And the group's music springs straight from the '80s and '90s goth-pop Aftermath has always loved: Depeche Mode, the Cure, Stabbing Westward, R.E.M. circa "Everybody Hurts" and especially Psychedelic Furs. Blue October could have belted out "Love My Way" or "Pretty In Pink" and Aftermath wouldn't have batted an eyelash.
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October's connection with the crowd - almost but not quite completely channeled through burly-voiced front man Justin Furstenfeld - was instantaneously apparent from the beginning. Crouched in the photo pit, Aftermath felt the air go out of the room as the band walked out onto the still-dark stage; the screaming, straining against the security barricade and shouting of song lyrics followed shortly thereafter. They did almost have us a couple of times - during the surging new song "Should Be Loved," reminiscent of U2's "I Will Follow," and later on, when the band was already well past its supposed 11 p.m. curfew and broke out something that reminded Aftermath of Social Distortion or a Western version of the Waterboys. Like he did all night, Furstenfeld was selling like Mad Men, and although we nibbled here and there, it wasn't quite enough to make us bite. "They're a pretty good band," one gentleman, older than Aftermath (but not as much older as we would have liked), said in the beer line late in the set. "But that's where it stops." He made a lot of sense, and did not give his name - wisely, he didn't want even those comments getting back to his wife or any of the other 2,000-something rabid October fans nearby. Try telling Friday's crowd their emperor has no clothes, though - that Blue October's roulette wheel comes to rest at "pretty good." As wholesome, tax-paying and seatbelt-wearing as they look, the territorial instinct to defend Blue October would override any humanitarian impulses. They'd rip the notebook out of your hand, the camera out of your pocket and the garments from your back quicker than you could take refuge in the Hard Rock Cafe.