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Friday, April 11, 2008

Candlebox : Live At The Roxy

by Taylor Kingsbury
3.15.08 - The Roxy - West Hollywood, CA

Nostalgia is a very strange beast, and its cagey powers were put on full display as the original members of Candlebox took the Roxy stage. The moment the proscenium curtains parted, it was as if the band’s story had been completely rewritten. As the near-capacity house erupted into a rapture of enthusiasm, Candlebox were not greeted as a slightly-relevant 90’s band who thrived for a moment based solely on the strength of two certifiably fantastic radio staples, then faded into nothingness after two subsequent releases generated little fanfare and even less commercial weight. Tonight, they were returning heroes, old friends who had been away far too long. Those assembled at the Roxy gave a roar of approval that indicated they hadn’t truly dismissed the band, they were merely anxiously waiting for their return.

Of course, this isn’t true.

See, Candlebox were a slighty-relevant 90’s band with two hit singles and two follow-up records that quickly became fixtures in the 99-cent bins of record stores nation wide. Said records—1995’s Lucy and their even less visible 1998 effort, Happy Pills—weren’t just ignored by the casual fans who drove the band’s eponymous debut into the Platinum club because you couldn’t download “Far Behind” for free in 1993, they were also summarily dismissed by the band’s mainstays (i.e.- the few people who wouldn’t have been ashamed to wear a Candlebox t-shirt to Lollapalooza that year).

And, let’s not forget, even at the height of their radio powers, the larger world regarded Candlebox as a third-rate Pearl Jam knock-off. This comparison was certainly unfair, as the two bands had little in common other than the fact that they both released debut records that relied heavily on bluesy rock anthems, but, to most people, that’s who Candlebox were back then. (On an aside, it’s also interesting to note that another band whose upcoming reunion is being met with unbridled excitement, Stone Temple Pilots, was also initially panned as a “baby Pearl Jam” in 1993, and it was even suggested that STP really stood for “Stealing Tunes from Pearl Jam”).

But, wait, I come to praise Candlebox, not bury them.

You see, on that fateful night at the Roxy, something even more extraordinary than the audience’s 15-years-tardy praise unfolded: Candlebox kicked some serious fucking ass. And, while the audience rewrote the band’s story by pretending they had never been away, the band seemed content to do the same, and while they were at it, pretend that they never made two records that no one bought.

Indeed, if you scanned the setlist, it would appear that Candlebox were road-testing material for their sophomore LP. With the exception of two underwhelming singles from their dark period (anyone remember “Simple Lessons” or “Happy Pills”?… didn’t think so), the band relied almost exclusively on a combination of songs from their forthcoming reformation release and about two thirds of the self-titled debut that made the Roxy return even remotely possible.

It’s a great time to be a where-are-they-now contending 90’s band. After all, with almost nothing near listenable, let alone great, emerging on current Active Rock charts, it’s nice to re-visit a time when the shittiest band on the radio was Bush, and Bush was still a halfway decent band. Certainly, KROQ (L.A.’s “modern rock” monolith slash evil corporation that blackmails competing stations off the air and makes sure that when their listeners’ favorite bands come to town, there aren’t any tickets available to purchase) knows this state well, which is why about 75 % percent of their playlist relies on material recorded before the turn of the century.
Candlebox seem to know it too, and they relished in the adoration of the small, but packed, house before them as the assembled greeted even deep catalog numbers like “Arrow” with furor. And they benefited from the timeless quality of the nostalgia in the air as well. Without contemporary context to pigeonhole their tunes, a song like “Don’t You” doesn’t sound like a Pearl Jam rip-off, even as it nicks its groove and basic vibe from “Even Flow”; it just sounds like a great rock song.

One particularly gratifying aspect of the performance was that, while many bands of Candlebox’s stature struggle to get even a polite response to their new material, the several infant songs they nestled into the set received ovations that often matched those given to their more classic numbers. And, with good reason. The tunes the band premiered at the gig (their new record is due in July) were undeniably strong, propulsive dervishes that didn’t seem at odds with the decade-and-a-half old material they shared a set with, but actually complemented it. Surely, the more traditional hard rock leanings revealed that the band wasn’t looking much farther ahead than 1993, but, as we’ve already established, their fans aren’t either, so the debuts were a tantalizing glimpse of a future the band may have once again.

Of course, there’s a reason fans still care about Candlebox 15 years after they released their first disc; actually, there are two reasons. Reason Number One served as the finale of the set proper, and as the band launched into a powerful rendering of “You”, aided by the pipes of everyone else present, the Roxy could have easily been any arena in the world. Reason Two closed out the brief encore, and no one singing along with the anthemic strains of “Far Behind” seemed to notice that vocalist Kevin Martin could have been addressing them personally when he roared, “you left me far behind.”

But, he probably wasn’t. Because, after all, tonight Candlebox had never gone away. And, whether or not their upcoming release re-establishes them as a name again, they were sent away from the Roxy with the knowledge that they cemented a couple of genuine moments into Pop culture lore.

Not bad for a third-rate Pearl Jam knock-off, eh?

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