House of Blues, Orlando, Fl • May 19, 2009
Of all the bands from those glorious, angst-filled days of the ’90s that could possibly reunite and tour, Bush wouldn’t be at the very top of my list, but they’d rank a lot higher than some of the bands that are currently trying to ride the reunion cash-wagon.
While the second-wave grunge gods from down under aren’t technically back together, Gavin Rossdale still piles up his solo tour set list with songs from both his days with Bush and his one-off Page Hamilton-produced project, Institute. The only difference between those seasoned songs and his new self-titled trek is that the current work is a little more adult contemporary. Other than that, the fuzz filled guitars are there, he’s got a full-on rock band backing him, and his easily-distinguishable vocals are as strong as they’ve ever been. Bush might as well be back.
The big surprise of the night was the undeniable power of opening act Nico Vega. The trio — which began the set still and in near darkness — was a fierce un-pin-downable musical tirade that awoke the senses like a sonic boom. Led by Aja Volkman, a waif of a woman who seems to have the DNA of Patti Smith buried within her, they started off with a sole pair of fans down front who sang along to every lyric, surprising even the band with their enthusiasm. “Hey! We’ve got two friends here,” Volkman commented about the pair.
After playing a few of the most convincing songs from their self-titled release — “Million Years,” “Burn Burn,” and “Gravity” — there was nary a silent set of hands on the two floors of the House of Blues. Volkman has the sort of unhinged, erotically-charged front woman skills of Karen O, Tori Amos, and the aforementioned Smith. She twirls about as a flowery banshee one moment, only to attack the stage floor, or slide up to guitarist Rich Koehler on her knees in the next instant. The music is just as unpredictable.
Clearly overjoyed by the quick conversion on the part of the audience from mildly curious to completely won over, they finished out their too-short time onstage with a ballad about, as Koehler joked, “a beautiful long haired man, whom you may wish to think of as Gavin Rossdale,” followed by one final high-energy number.
From the level of shrieks that resulted from the appearance of Gavin Rossdale it was evident that a certain fraction of his fanbase was present, at least in part, due to the fact that he’s “so dreamy.” That may well be, but move past the Greek curls and model looks and Mr. Gwen Stefani remains quite a showman. Within his first few moments onstage he lost himself deep inside his own skin-tingling melodies — he pogoed around, buried his face behind his mane of hair, and fell to his knees just inches from the outstretched arms of fans. Also during these first breaths of the headlining set, he floored us all with a rousing rendition of “Machinehead,” from 1994’s Sixteen Stone.
Perhaps I’m biased, but it was Bush, and even Institute, tunes that got people’s pulses raising. “Everything Zen,” “Glycerine,” “Chemicals Between Us,” “Bullet Proof Skin” — these were the songs that inspired the big roars.