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September 03, 2007

8/28: Aaron Lewis @ Nokia Theater, NYC

One of the best things about being a Mobile Beat Blogger is going to shows that I most likely wouldn’t have heard about or thought I’d be interested in seeing even if I did know about them. Enter into my inbox an e-mail from Billboard asking if I could cover the Aaron Lewis (lead singer from alternative turned mainstream rock band STAIND) show at Nokia Theater. I’ll admit I was never a hardcore STAIND fan when the group hit its peak around 2001 with Break The Cycle, but signature (or dare I say radio friendly) hits like “Outside” and “It’s Been Awhile” frequently blared through my MTV screen or car radio…albeit just loud enough to drown out my tone deaf voice as I belted out Lewis’s angst-laden lyrics right along with him. So when I read that the shaved headed, tattooed rocker was stripping down for a solo acoustic show, “HAVE GUITAR, WILL TRAVEL” I was intrigued and immediately on board. Throughout the night I had to keep thanking myself for taking this assignment because it was definitely one of the most amazing and intense nights of music and, ironically, humorous shows (more about that later) I’ve attended this summer.  Not only does Aaron Lewis have one of the most incredible yet under appreciated voices in music today, he is also one of the most introspective and sensitive songwriters who really unveils all about himself in his emotionally vulnerable lyrics. Large-scale, smoke ‘n mirrors rock shows beware. Lewis’s back-to-basics, no frills 2+ hrs set is unscripted, real and raw…and funny??

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Who needs therapy when you have music, right? If you take the time to really pay attention to what Aaron Lewis is saying (not doing so would in large part defeat the purpose of listening to his music at all) it’s obvious that he’s working out some deep sh** in his songs...but that is the appeal of both him and his music, and what makes him so real. Often sung to the strumming of relatively simple acoustic guitar notes and chords, Lewis pretty much bares his soul to all in attendance at his shows. Following in the footsteps of other famed yet pained singers, most notably Kurt Cobain, Lewis achingly sings about the suffering he’s experienced throughout his existence. On tunes like “It’s Been Awhile” and “For You” he sings about the emotional turmoil he endured as the son of divorced parents, thus becoming the voice of many troubled youths who have also suffered the repercussions of coming from broken homes. On the former, he confesses “I cannot blame this on my father.” On songs like “Home,” which he played about halfway through the night, Lewis gives insight into the struggles many musicians must go through between life on the road and wanting to be with a family back home:  “I’m afraid to be alone, afraid you’ll leave me when I’m gone, afraid to come back home…Another sleepless night alone, Hotel rooms my only friend.” Between his vulnerable lyrics and emotive voice, it’s almost impossible not to feel some of his pain with him.

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Perhaps Lewis knows that his songs are, shall we say, a bit on the somber side. Because right before you feel like you might need to curl up under your seat and cry, he breaks up the despair between songs by playfully joking back and forth with the crowd and even directly responding to song requests and questions. After one adoring fan called Lewis a “Masshole” Lewis seemed to know exactly what he was referring to…”Go Sox! I said it! And by the way, Jeter wears lace panties.” The Mets fan in me smirked and quickly became a Lewis lover. Lucky for me this baseball banter ensued for pretty much the rest of the night (AWESOME), which I was clearly psyched about, because I definitely don’t hear enough baseball chatter at home from my husband (can we say THREE Fantasy Baseball leagues). Can’t a girl catch a break!?!?

When braving a crowd alone, just you and your guitar, it’s par for the course to get some heckles and requests from the audience. Unlike many artists who either totally ignore their screaming fans with a “This is my show, I’ll play what I want so shut up” attitude, Lewis seems to get off on it. He's probably one of the only artists who actually responds back and forth to calls from the crowd, really breaking down the barriers between he and his fans. To those attempting to create the set list for him mid show, calling for greatest hits like “Epiphany” and “Right Here Waiting” way too early in the night, Lewis tried to ease their minds and buy himself some time by saying, “It’s a silly request…you know I’m gonna play ‘em so just let me dawdle.” Suffice it to say, that didn’t settle down the masses until he finally pulled out the string of favorites at the end of the night. Note to Lewis:  You should have gone with your first instinct of playing all of those songs “right now” so that neither you nor the rest of us had to “listen to that all night.” Apparently part of Lewis’s “shtick” is doing cover songs, which explains the gazillion shout outs for what I have to say was the most bizarre array of requests that included none other than “I Saw The Sign” from Ace of Base. After laughingly asking the fan if he was “f***ing kidding!?!?” Lewis busted into a perfect rendition of the song’s chorus. His attempt at “Bringing Sexy Back” proved more challenging. As if all of that wasn’t funny enough, he then segued into a medley of cliché covers in an effort to calm down anyone who got “too crazy.” From “Patience,” “Stairway To Heaven,” “Hotel California,” and “Wanted Dead or Alive” to an eerily on the spot vocal of Neil Diamond’s “Love on the Rocks” that totally cracked everyone up, Lewis proved he could sell out a crowd on his karaoke skills alone.

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And then there’s Lewis’s sweet side that truly shines through on songs dedicated to those he loves. It’s amazing to me that a person can be so eloquent and open through song, yet so uncomfortably inarticulate in everyday conversation…and Aaron Lewis is an admitted victim of this contradiction. Stuttering his way through the introduction to “Fill Me Up,” a song paying homage to his wife, Lewis confessed that he had to sing his appreciation to his better half because he’s “much better at expressing himself through a song than with words.” And with lines like “You fill me up, you’re in my veins, one look can take my breath away” what wife would really take exception to that kind of logic? “Zoe Jane” is a tender ballad for his 3 year old daughter that definitely brought a tear to the eyes of this daddy’s girl. Revealing that he “Cried as I walked to the door…about how long I’d be away for,” again depicted the hardship Lewis feels when heading back out on the road to make a living. Sensitive lyrics like “I want to hold you and protect you from all the things I’ve already endured” dissolves the illusion of “rock star” and portrays Lewis as the tattooed teddy bear he probably more likely is in real life.

Awww!

Lewis is just as funny as he is tormented, or at least he’s managed to have a sense of humor, as sarcastic as it may be (though is there any other kind worth having?) about the pain he carries. “I wrote this song in a parking lot in Sioux Falls, South Dakota...and it’s called ‘Anywhere But Here.’” Singing about how “the bed next to him is empty” the song seemed like yet another (metaphorical) testament to lonely nights in a hotel room or tour bus more so than a less than thrilling stop over in South Dakota. As dark and nostalgic as his lyrics may be, Lewis does a really good job of balancing his sense of anguish (and our potential depression in listening to him) with interjections of dry wit between songs. Although his full version of “Rainbow Connection,” introduced as “the song that really blew doors wide open for him and convinced him music was the way to go” was a welcome moment of levity throughout the night.

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About ½ way through the set, Lewis brought up his friend Chris to help him out on “Angel” which was a tribute to the “heroes who go off to war…who fight for freedom…who fight for me.” One of the highlights of the night had to be when the two of them played an amazing version of Pearl Jam’s “Black,” which was only slightly ruined by the beer-breathed drunks behind me who thought they were channeling Eddie Vedder from their fold-out chairs in Nokia Theater. The beautifully harmonized version of Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” that followed quickly assuaged any anger I might have been feeling towards these two wannabe back up singers.

Closing out the set was the single his unsatisfied record company told Lewis to go back and make. As much as we don’t want to admit it, sometimes the suits are on the money, because Lewis produced “So Far Away,” an all time favorite. Saving the best for last, Lewis pulled out “Outside,” “Right Here Waiting” and “It’s Been Awhile” for a triple threat encore, turning the theater into an all out sing-a-long.

“I really appreciate you all letting me keep doing this,” AL, 8/28/07, Nokia Theater, NYC.

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Comments

Reid E.

Another wonderfully written review. Excellent work. Inspired me to pull out my Staind CD from a few years ago.

Howard Meiner

Boy, do you sure get around. You exhausted me this summer with your whirlwind schedule of concerts; but you didn't tire me out with the great written blogs.

Celeste Armstrong

Leslie, once again you have done a great job! You get to see the best shows!!!!

MarianEve

Leslie,
Wow is the first thing that comes to me. How terrific that you had the opportunity to review Aaron Lewis. You have created an intimate feeling about him that makes one wish that they were there with you.I'm counting on You!!!

Marie

I hope you get to do this again next year!

Ross

I have much respect for those artists that do a solo thing. Who would've thought that a "rock star" like Aaron Lewis would be so depressed? Great review. Your blog made me feel like i know him.

tammie

What a fun discovery...

Megan Ross

I "enjoy" his voice, too. Not a concert I would have opted for either, but I'm glad he surprised you!

Melissa

Another great review....

Emily

I couldn't agree more about the beer sing-a-long and I love he did some cool covers. Great review :)

Jodi

Your description of Aaron Lewis makes me want to run out and get his music! Thanks for such a informative and entertaining read.

Liz

LOVE THE WRITE UP!!!

margie v

I love Herbie Hancock, although I have never had the opportunity to see him live. Glad you enjoyed the old school stuff

Michael R

An opportunity to expand your horizons with other artists will no doubt continue to appreciate the variations of music. If you do this again, do you think you'll ever get to the Mostly Mozart Fesitaval? Now that's a review that would be interesting to read!

Pat Bennett

Leslie, you've intorduced me to an artist I never would have listened to. Aaron Lewis sounds quite interesting now. Thanks for the great review, and for enlightening me.

Randi

Wow, I never would have thought that Aaron Lewis had so much depth. I really feel like you gave me a new prospective on him. I really enjoyed your write-up.

Jason

Aaron Lewis....what a guy! I got to say you really know how to capture the night. You must take really good notes when you are at a concert b/c you seem to not leave out any details. Sorry your concerts are coming to an end as I really enjoyed following your tour this summer.

Cuz

Who would have thought Aaron Lewis had so much character. Sounds like a night to remember and through your blog I feel like I got to experience some of that. Rock on!

Cuz2B

Great review once again. You should back a book with all your posts something to look back on.
I have to admit I was always a fan of Aaron Lewis but not many people are familiar with just how good he is. Now you are!

Katie

Nice write-up!

jay

nice review. i always enjoy artist playing their songs solo and acoustic without the other bandmates.

Kathleen

GREAT

AllyK

GREAT SHOW! GREAT WRITE-UP!

Dena

Leslie- Completely intrigued by your review.. had no idea Aaron was touring acoustically.. will definitely want to check that out. I am a big staind fan as well!!

Lauren Ainsworth

This guy IS great... once again you really described the vibe perfectly.

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