The Use Your Sole Tour, sponsored by TOMS Shoes, visited New York City's Nokia Theatre last night. Headliners Hanson were supported by New Jersey's Steel Train and Californians HelloGoodbye and Sherwood.
San Luis Obispo's Sherwood took the stage first, tossing beachballs into the crowd. Frontman Nate Henry ditched his standard bass in favor of an acoustic guitar and the sextet dove into the mid-tempo cut "Not Gonna Love," a decidedly weak and ho-hum opener as far as set openers go. Though the execution was precise, the entire vibe was way too calm from the onset. While that's certainly not a horrible thing, it's not exactly what one expects from an opener. Henry returned to his bass on "You Are," which featured inspired keyboard contributions from Mikey Leibovich. Unfortunately, the guitars took a backseat to Henry's vocals, whose confidence and near-flawless delivery anchored the song from start to finish. In many ways, had he not been front and center, this band would have come across as horribly ordinary and mildly boring.
After two decidedly restrained songs, the Californians jumped into "Song In My Head," allowing the band a chance to step away from their placidity. From the first note, their execution felt more visceral, more confident, more polished and the most complete of any song thus far. Members of Steel Train ambled onto the stage, joined by Sherwood's significant others for the cerebral and subdued, "Make It Through," a midtempo yarn with a warm, nighttime ambiance.
Returning to the music, Henry guided the band into "For the Longest Time," a run-of-the-mill power-pop song that sounded incredibly rehearsed, calculated and horribly average. Had Henry not held a note for 30-plus seconds towards the song's finish, nothing about the song would have stood out. The lackluster set ended with the emotive yearning of "Maybe This Time," which was one of the set's few highlights. Exiting the stage in under 30 minutes, the band was effusive in praising the crowd, but little about the set was worthy of effuse praise. From the moment they walked on stage, the band appeared tired, uninspired and rather rudimentary. For a band who has made a killing with their frenzied live shows, the entire set was far too disappointing, and did little to quell the rumors about the band's imminent demise.
New Jersey's Steel Train took to the stage next and performed a set of six fuzzy, drug-induced jams. Opening with new song "Last Generation of Hope," vocalist Jack Antonoff was a manic fireball of energy and his bouncy presence was both eye-opening and thought-provoking. Though the song's vocal work left a lot to be desired, the guitar-driven vessel was amiable and hopeful. On the funk-inspired "Firecracker," he came across as overly dramatic, pretentious and horribly overconfident. Aided by members of HelloGoodbye, "Firecracker," was musically quite lively, searing and dripping with energy. The anxiety-ridden "Kill Monsters in Rain," began with a smoky blues riff and more frenetic gyrations from Antonoff. Once again the song lacked a serious chorus, and he seemed to make up for that with his over-the-top movements, appearing more like a whirling dervish than that of a lead singer. An acapella version of "The Road Song," was the set's high water mark, as the song was off-the-cuff, unexpected and terrifically executed. The post 9/11 confusion of "I Feel Weird," marked the band's last song of the night, and even included an attempt at Abba's "Mamma Mia," that drifted towards the end, but began rather precisely. Borrowing a few guitar lines from British band James, Steel Train proved to be an excitable bunch, but a bit too melodramatic. After the uninspired Sherwood set, the energy was certainly a welcome addition, but one couldn't help but wonder, why does this band have to be this arrogant? More the point, does it have to be this dramatic?
After a 30-minute set break, Long Beach, CA's Hellogoodbye took the stage completely without pretense or snobbery. Their self-deprecating, slightly awkward on-stage persona made for one of the more entertaining and enjoyable sets this reviewer has seen all year. Beginning with the ukelele-fueled "When We First Met," vocalist Forrest Kline sounded overmatched and slightly askew, but was complimented by a supple rhythm section and a rolling trombone towards the song's latter half. The band pushed on into "All Time Lows," and fan-favorite "Shimmy Shimmy Quarter Turn," and the latter proved to be the point at which the California quintet dusted off the cob webs and hit their stride.
A twee mandolin began the rollicking "Baby, it's Fact," which had a carefree simplicity that was easy-going, sunny and sprite. Danny Flynn's trombone contributions once again aided a rather simple and conventional pop ditty. After a group of overexcited teenagers tried to start a pit, Kline urged the crowd to, "start a hug circle, or begin a tickle fight," and heeding his own advice, did just that with his fellow band members, firstly going after guitarist Andrew Richards, and then after keyboard player Joseph Marro, as the band stumbled into "Call and Return," which proved to be more of an exercise in silliness than sterling pop execution. Another new song, the caffeinated and punchy, "You Sleep Alone," followed and it proved to be one of the better songs of the set. When the song finished, Kline encouraged the crowd to boo effusively, noting that, "It's still a work in progress." The hilarious gesture only proved the point that nothing about the set was conventional, expected or grounded.
The pensive and placid "Dear Jamie, Sincerely Me," elicited a thunderous roar from the crowd and allowed the group to display their musical muscle. An attempt to bring an overzealous fan onstage turned to disaster when security demanded the denizen return to his place in the crowd. Admitting that the maneuver was probably a bit foolish, Kline gleefully admitted, "Well, we told you it would get weird." Bassist Travis Head plugged the band's DJ set at Angels and Kings later that night, to which Kline added, "Yep, I'll be there. Playing Scrabble and drinking Shirley Temples. Should be fun. I hope to see you there."
The sentimental "Oh It Is Love," pushed the crowd into a tizzy, before the quintet tried two new songs. The first, "Not The Same," was earnest and well-worn, revealing that of all the songs perhaps this is one the band has most expertly. Beginning with Kline on ukelele, the song is ostensibly a slow-moving ballad that takes off towards the two-minute mark. Keyboard player Marro took to the acoustic guitar for the jittery and jumpy "Follow You," easily the band's best song of the night. Confident, mature and vocally tender, "Follow You," was the sound of a band in full control and finding their stride.
A mandolin and melodica framed the romance ballad, "Bonnie Taylor Shakedown 2K1," a song Kline dedicated to his fiancee and to Colorado balloon boy Falcon Heene. While the band's intentions were strong, it was the only point in the set where perhaps their joking antics got the best of them. Not one of the band member's seemed to know in which direction the song was headed and seemed puzzled about what notes to play. For a band who was a co-headliner, the horribly amateurish display was both disappointing and unprofessional. As if to atone for going astray, the band closed out their set with "Here (In Your Arms)," which set the room ablaze with its soaring chorus and found the entire room in an absolute lather.