[Ed. Note: Yep, it's the infamous Blue October article. Presented without edits, it's a bit less harsh actually. Still, I think Furstenfeld fans will still have plenty to hate me for while reading this.]
When I heard Blue October was playing a hometown show here in Houston at Sam Houston Race Park, I laughed. When 94.5 The Buzz pushed, promoted, and prodded me about the show, I laughed. When my best friend's girlfriend played Blue October in the car, I laughed. When 29-95 sent me an e-mail with the question "who wants to see Blue October?" I laughed. After all, this is the same show that had been something of a running joke among me and my friends. But I am the sort of person that loves the whole meta-ironic hipster bullshit enough to actually jump on an opportunity like that. So of course, in between laughing, I threw my hat in the ring to go to the show. I didn't actually think I'd get to do it, but sure enough come Saturday I was strolling up to the race track to pick up my press pass.
The whole thing was a bit of a crazy experience for me. I've never been a member of the press before, not officially anyway. This was the legit sort of thing I had always heard about but had never been a part of before. When I arrived, my name was on a list and instead of a ticket, they handed me a green cloth sticker to put on my shirt to identify myself. Then, through much asking around, I found out about a secret security tunnel where I was loaded up in a golf cart and driven to the VIP area in front of the stage and told I had access to the holy grail of concert seating: the area between the barricade holding back the front row of fans and the stage itself. The place where the security stands. This was the scene behind me:
It's a bit breath-taking to say the least. I took it in stride of course because you always have to keep your cool when doing something amazingly cool. So I stood around, looking amazingly out of place among the photographers with my old torn skinny jeans, filthy old Chuck Taylors that have been through at least three near-death experiences with me, my ever-present hoodie that I will wear even in humid, awful Houston weather, and my complete lack of a real camera. This even earned me a questioning about whether I should even be allowed in that area since I wasn't actually shooting the show, to which I simply pulled out my trusty iPhone and reassured everyone that I was indeed taking pictures that night.
(picture of the Black and White Years)
So I did take pictures, snapping away right when the opening band hit the stage. The Black and White Years are a band from Austin that could probably more appropriately be called "the Reagan Years" given the music they play. These guys fit right in with the current wave of indie new wave bands resurrecting that 80's danceability the kids all love so much. They're a direct product of false nostalgia by a generation that has no identity of its own and wants the identity of a previous generation. So they're basically your average iPod commercial band these days. Being a bitter, cynical, hipster doofus, I wanted to hate them but they were rather fun. Yeasayer and Phoenix are two favorite recent bands of mine and the Black and White Years are like a less weird, less imaginative, less inventive, even more radio friendly version of those bands' sounds mixed together, so there's something shamefully enjoyable about them like fast food. Actually, to be completely honest, if you were to judge just off the two band bill on Saturday night, you might walk away thinking Austin still has a leg up on Houston for good music, even though that's not true at all. The Black and White Years are a general representation of what Austin's music scene has become nowadays, whereas Houston's hometown heroes are, let us admit it, the worst possible representation anyone could ever judge Houston's music scene by, which I assume is where the New York Times went horribly wrong recently.
Blue October are one of the most shamelessly commercial bullshit bands to ever come out of the entirety of Texas, but they try to maintain a sort of image about themselves, or at least frontman Justin Furstenfeld does. Take, for example, what you can see in this picture of the man. Black eyeliner and black fingernail polish to connect with a sub-section of kids that enjoy getting beaten up in high school. Scuffless, probably brand new Chuck Taylors because that's what punks wear and there's literally nothing more punk than post-grunge radio rock! Of course, I saved the best for last, the mohawk. The mohawk is a hairstyle that could not be any less rebellious today if it tried. The evolution of the mohawk traces back hundreds of years, but is perhaps most relevant in the last fifty years thanks to Travis Bickle and punks of the 1980's. Today, it doesn't so much represent them as it does Green Day fans.
The problem here, of course, is what you can't see. Picking up on the Green Day comparison, at least when they sold out, they did it in a way where it's fun to sing their songs while drunk on karaoke night (I defy you to deny singing along to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" at some point in your life), whereas Blue October's particular brand is to be as absolutely dark as possible while still connecting emotionally with preteens. Justin Furstenfeld isn't a happy man and he'll be the first to remind you of that by constantly mentioning it at concerts, something also known as the sympathy vote.
What you can't see in the pictures are the band's bizarre attempts at being all things to all people. Their songs range from your typical post-grunge, Papa Roach-biting "curse and yell a lot because it's edgy and man I hate myself and want to die" tactic to some truly baffling dabbling in other genres. Normally I wouldn't be against a band experimenting, but it's sad to watch when a band is so clearly incapable of pulling off their own experiments. Occasionally, Blue October have decided to explore such genres as cash-grab adult contemporary influenced by Peter Gabriel, complete with violin gimmick, which works about as well you would think it would. At other times, Furstenfeld has chosen to start speaking in a British accent, which is very odd considering how insistent he is that Blue October is FROM HERE (also known as the hometown cheap pop). Then there's the "we have a sensitive side too" songs which are like the AC songs except slightly less vapid because they occasionally have a real sentiment behind them.
The nadir of the show was one such experiment where Furstenfeld dedicated the following song to his daughter, Blue. That's sweet and all, but the song was just punishingly awful. With a chorus of "up down, up down, up down, up down, yeah, cause it will get hard, remember, life's like a jump rope" it's the sort of thing you imagine that started as something Furstenfeld sang to his daughter in a tender father-daughter moment that has misguidededly taken on a life of its own as a real Blue October song.
But I could sit here and gripe all day and all night. This clearly isn't for me. I'm not the target demographic for music like this. The target demographic is the audience you saw above. Take a good long look at it. That's just what I could show with the limited capabilities of my iPhone's camera. That's just the front of the VIP section. Sam Houston Race Park was FULL. Filled to capacity. How many people were actually there, I can't say. I can, however, say that it explains why Blue October is a platinum-selling band when nobody even buys albums anymore. Something about them resonates with a great deal of people out there that are not me. So while Blue October is a running joke between me and my friends and I can write paragraph after paragraph about what a truly terrible band they are, they connect with enough people to populate a small country. You can make your arguments about what that says about those people or what it says about Justin Bieber fans or the people that keep the guys that make parody movies in business, but that gets into something entirely more philosophical and misanthropic than the point I'm trying to make. The point is that Blue October is doing something right because people like them for some reason. I don't know what that reason is and it's not for me to know because, like I said, I'm not the person they're trying to connect with. So kudos to them on possessing that certain something that captures the ear of the majority of people. Live and let live, eh?