Friday Night: Collective Soul at House of Blues

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Collective Soul House of Blues June 1, 2012

What does a Collective Soul concert look like in 2012? That was the question I found myself seeking an answer to on Friday night when the '90s radio hitmakers rolled into House of Blues. Anyone who's listened to 97.5 The Buzz in the past 20 years can sing the chorus to half a dozen of the band's tunes, but has the heavy wave of '90s nostalgia rippling through music and culture really extended to Collective Soul? What have they got left to say in the iPod era?

Nothing new, as it turns out, but the old stuff is still packin' 'em in. If Friday's show wasn't sold out, it was certainly packed to the ribs. Far from the fresh-faced college kids set to swam Eleanor Tinsley Park the next day at Free Press Summer Fest, the crowd for Collective Soul was decidedly older and better able to afford the $7 beers. At least half the audience was pushing 50 and coupled up.

There was no opening act for the show: The band's current tour isn't about introducing anything fresh. More and more acts are staying out on the road these days by performing their classic albums in full, and on Friday, Collective Soul dusted off 1998's platinum Dosage. Actually, calling the record a classic is a bit of a stretch. Smash singles have always been Collective Soul's stock and trade, not long-form concepts.

Still, the band took pains to recreate the sounds of that era during the first of its two sets. Singer Ed Roland used a lyrical cheat sheet for songs from the disc like "Slow" and "Generate" that he probably hadn't sung since they were recorded before this trek. The crowd appeared equally fuzzy on remembering some of the tunes, but the excellent "Heavy" gave them a taste of the group's trademark monster riffs.

Dosage proved to be a solid set performed by pros, but the people paid their money to hear the hits. Fortunately, Collective Soul wasn't shy about providing them. In fact, the band was not unaffected by the nostalgia in the air, either. Friday's enthusiastic crowd sent Roland on a trip down Memory Lane to the band's first big break.

"Right after we got signed, they sent us to Houston, Texas, to play at Goat's Head Soup," he said, wistfully. "We got to hang out with King's X that night."

As band and audience alike basked in the warmth of fond memories, Roland and his bandmates promptly stepped on "Gel," that indelible staple of '90s rock radio that is playing on the airwaves somewhere in America right this minute. And you know what? It still rocked.

Collective Soul cranked up the nostalgia even further with an '80s tribute that included a medley of snippets from the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," Van Halen's "Dance the Night Away" and AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."

"Yes, that one's from 1990," Roland admitted, grinning. "I know my music!"

1990 was just fine with the fortysomething Sarah Palin lookalike standing next to me, and she wasn't alone in that sentiment. There was a lot of grown-up love for Collective Soul in the room, and judging from the warm smiles and banter coming from the stage, the legitimately crowded show appeared to be a highlight for the band of the current tour.

If you hadn't assumed it already, Collective Soul's high-energy closing set sent the appreciative crowd home happy. After the rather dull acoustic number "Heaven's Already Here," the group deployed "The World I Know," "December" and "Shine."

There was not a soul in the House of Blues who did not know these songs. I'm not sure there's a radio listener in America who doesn't. The singalongs crackled with the energy of easy recognition and power-chord fist-pumping.

Collective Soul could carve out a nice niche as a pure nostalgia act. Their show has been sharpened by 20 years of touring, and none of them have gotten fat or bald. The crowd was definitely older, but enthusiastic. If Styx and REO Speedwagon can keep it going playing the hits of yesteryear, why not these guys?

Then again, who knows. Collective Soul might not be done. These guys can really write a riff, and it wouldn't surprise me if they delivered another hit single or two before their core following needs hearing aids. Then ten years from now, they could do a nostalgia tour based around that record.

I can't say I'd be totally disinterested in checking that out, either. Just as long as they play "Shine" at the end.

Personal Bias: Let's face it, the '90s ruled.

The Crowd: Old as fuck. Like, older than you'd think. These folks did not have to call a babysitter.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Hey... is that chick, like, a midget, or what?" (She was not.)

Random Notebook Dump: There was a distinct lack of weed smoke in the crowd. Probably a lot of them felt weird about pinching off their kids.

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