By BRUCE DENNILL
Collective Soul and Lifehouse / TicketPro Dome, Northgate, Johannesburg 6.5
There was a great deal of excellent songwriter-driven rock music coming out of America in the Nineties and Noughties, with Collective Soul and Lifehouse being two of the more chart-friendly options outside of the States, and both outfits whose popularity has been by sustained by their strong catalogues. Collective Soul celebrate 25 years together in 2018 and are touring to celebrate not only that, but the imminent release of their tenth album. Lifehouse have no such major milestone to celebrate, but the more or less dual headliner nature of the tour (the later and longer set was Collective Soul’s, but a number of audience members claimed to have bought tickets for the chance to see Lifehouse, with the rest being a bonus) meant that this concert was running on all cylinders for its full running time, rather than slowly building to a climax.
Sadly, for all the obvious skill of the musicians and the many, many hits played throughout the evening, there were consistent, aggravating problems with the sound making the best that could be made of these performances some way off the quality of which both bands are capable.
Lifehouse had it slightly better on the mixing front, though singer Jason Wade was quite clearly having problems with his in-ear monitoring. They have always been an underrated band when the cultural impact of their songs is measured against their media profile, and their no-frills approach to their stage act underlines their choice to stay in that more relaxed space. The songs they performed were all powerful and heartfelt, with many part of the soundtrack of the lives of those listening, and yet Wade and his cohorts looked – in their everyday casual clothing and functional rather than flashy gear – like a particularly good garage band; the boys next door made good.
The set comprised mostly the band’s louder, more upbeat tracks, with their biggest hits, the love songs You And Me and Hanging By A Moment, left till late in the set, and the epic Everything (another quiet one, and around seven minutes long) unfortunately left off the setlist – perhaps unsurprisingly for a large arena show where it’s difficult to build the intimacy in which the song soars highest.
Collective Soul entered – hilariously – to the strains of Climb Every Mountain from The Sound Of Music before launching into their patented compressed, riff-heavy melodic rock. Frontman Ed Roland later confessed to “trying out a new look” and, by accessorising a wide-brimmed grey hat with some white-rimmed glasses and his long greying hair, the look he achieved was a sort of middle-aged Willy Wonka. That and his perpetual movement – quirky dance moves and engaging his mic stand in constant choreography – kept Roland as the focus of attention, which his inter-song banter seemed to suggest is the way he likes it (and fair enough, too, as he’s the founding member, songwriter and creative nexus of the band). That dynamic was noticeably different to the previous band, with the Lifehouse set having included a cover of U2’s Pride (In The Name Of Love) sung – very well – by bassist Bryce Soderberg, with Wade lurking back near the drum riser and staying out of his bandmate’s way.
Still, Roland gave great value in the spotlight, posing, waving, interacting and cajoling the crowd in addition to his singing duties. His band played well too – particularly brilliant guitarist Jesse Triplett and rock-solid drummer Johnny Rabb – but were badly let down by a poor mix. The TicketPro Dome is a notoriously difficult venue to get good sound in, but there were moments in Collective Soul’s set when the separate elements in the huge, beloved riffs that start off many of their big hits – Gel, Why Pt. 2, and Where The River Flows, among others – were indistinguishable from each other, meaning that you’d have to wait until Roland started singing to discover what song had actually begun.
This frustration aside, this was a strong set, including some new songs that are still in the process of being perfected ahead of their being recorded in the studio. Of these, the pop-rock Right As Rain shows that Roland hasn’t lost his touch for penning catchy singles and suggests that the momentum built by this tour may continue for some time.
Great songs and great musicians, unfortunately somewhat shrouded by some dense, compressed bass that removed the gloss from their usually radiant creations.