Live: Lightning Strikes Bush At The Bowery Ballroom


Bowery Ballroom
Thursday, July 28

Better than: Better Than Ezra.

Those of you who got here from the link I will be posting on Google+ may find this hard to believe, but for the first half of my life I was what you’d call a late adopter. The Discman I bought from a garage sale in 1995 was the first such device to be owned by any member of my immediate family, in fact, after which we were all mildly astonished that something living in my bedroom had an honest-to-god laser in it. Likewise, grunge had pretty much ended before I fully understood that it had started in the first place—Kurt was dead by the time I bought the CD player. And so it came to pass that Sixteen Stone was the first CD I ever bought, and thus knockoff post-grunge alternative rock had to serve as my earth-shattering teen coming-of-age soundtrack. Not my finest hour; apologies to Better Than Ezra.

But this was actually not so horrid a fate back in 1995 as it may seem now. Back in middle school we all had yet to discover Rolling Stone or Spin or in fact any sort of commentary on these things beyond the playlists of our town’s lone rock radio station, so even if they had been critically attacked at the time our devotion was the real deal.

In fact, my second concert ever was Bush’s tour in support of Sixteen Stone. (I can’t bring myself to tell you the first.) This necessitated an extra ticket for a friend’s parent, who drove a van full of kids up to the arena an hour away while we giggled in the back about girls and whatever, and then sat up in the stands while we went down to the floor to explore our first-ever mosh pit. We promptly discovered crowdsurfing. “The rest of you guys, sure—but I swear, every time I looked down, Vijith was floating across the crowd,” said Jefferson’s dad after the show. As an awkward 14-year-old who couldn’t play any sports and took forever to work up the guts to admit to anybody at school that I was trying to learn to play the guitar, that’s as proud as my moments got.

Bowery Ballroom in 2011, though? Totally different story—I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it was upsetting to realize as soon as I entered that it looked and smelled like a room full of Shinedown fans (hair gel, beer, sweat, shame). I was pretty surprised to learn that the show had sold out—but then again, that’s the upside of frontman Gavin Rossdale’s decision to put the band to bed for a decade after 2001’s Golden State flopped. I made a special point of wearing a t-shirt from a much cooler band (you probably haven’t heard of them).

But man, there was no better way to get me on board with this thing than opening with the explosion of “Machinehead,” the angry golden boy of 1996 alt-rock whose intro riffs will still hold their own against whoever the fuck’s on your t-shirts today. Removing the anticipation for that one so quickly probably took 70% of the wind out of my sails, honestly. A bit more upon realizing that this was a sort of “Bush reborn” thing, with Rossdale intact but none of the other members I had grown up with; in all my alternating between jitters and WTFs, I never thought to check. This in turn recalls both “Adrenaline,” his ill-advised Glen Ballard-produced 2002 run at becoming a soloist, and also his post-Bush band Institute, which absolutely nobody cared about. Thankfully his voice hasn’t aged a day.

Amusingly, most people were finding it hard to sing along, being 15 years removed from the bafflingly abstract lyrics. This time around, however, decoding them wasn’t as important as it had seemed when I was a teenager. Why do the lyrics printed in the booklet mysteriously omit the bridge from “Glycerine”? What’s the significance of that particular passage, and why is it different from everything else on the album? And what the fuck is he mumbling there anyway? I later bought a sheet music transcription to help hurry along my progress with the guitar and finally found it there: “Bad moon wine again/ And it falls around me.” Didn’t actually help quell my curiosity at all.

Last night “Greedy Fly” sounded more serious than I remember—I guess in some ways the follow-up single from Razorblade Suitcase was one of the most mature statements of the genuine avant-garde tendencies that usually just manifested themselves as incomprehensible babbling. I’d called Jefferson as soon as I heard on the radio that the tour in support of that album would also be coming back through town. “If we go to this,” he whispered excitedly, “we’ll be Bush gurus.”

I’ve grown up and away from Bush’s music over the years, and I can fully appreciate why it seems ridiculous to be excited about them in 2011 if you’re just reading this on a blog or something (especially if you’re reading about it on a blog, actually). But this was also about the point in the evening where it became pretty clear that the excitement in the room was as real as it had been in the van all those years ago, and too heartfelt to impeach as somehow misguided. I’ve also been to the shows where this doesn’t go very well; the 14-year-old version of myself was mostly an idiot, and I’d honestly be quite happy to skewer him for you folks here if I could.

But to hell with snark—that would be the easy way out, and this was honestly wonderful. In one of the most adorable rock-star moves I’ve seen, Rossdale grabbed a handheld video camera from one of the fans who had posted up for two hours in order to stake out a spot in the front row and held it next to the mic for a verse or so, singing directly to it. That one’s gonna be a keeper. And that girl in front of me—it’ll be a long time before I’ll forget the look on her face when they finally started playing “Glycerine.”

And then it was over, and the subway zipped me back to Brooklyn in 2011, possibly at 88mph and leaving flaming tracks in its wake. Against my better judgment, I’ll probably be picking up the new album after this. Sea Of Memories, they’re calling it.

Critical bias: Um, hello? Have you been paying attention? Anybody in there? Knock knock? MCFLY???

Overheard: Chatty dude to my right found out I was reviewing the show, and during “Swallowed,” he grinned and said, “I got my first blowjob to this song!” He promised to email this to the girl if I quoted him. You better come through here, Dave.

Random notebook dump: When you’re Bush, how do you close with anything other than “Glycerine?” I’ll tell you—with “Comedown,” hanging on the line “I don’t want to come back down from this cloud,” so all the folks still caught up in reminiscing get one for the road, so to speak.

Set list:
All My Life
Little Things
The People That We Love
Greedy Fly
Everything Zen
The Sound Of Winter
Letting The Cables Sleep
The Chemicals Between Us
The Afterlife
Land Of The Living
Come Together