Radio-friendly rockers flip the symphonic switch
on their melody-making machine
Somewhere during the history of durable and ambitious rock bands,
a group will attempt the momentous task of playing with a live
orchestra. The assignment? Balance the light with the dark as
two worlds collide and rock synergizes with the seemingly diametric
style of classical music. In the past this experiment has been
met with varied success, as Procol Harum, Dream Theater,
Styx, and Metallica have all gone symphonic for
a few shows.
The latest band to accept the big-O challenge is Collective
Soul. Twelve years into their successful career, the alternative
quintet recorded the album Home over two performances with
the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO) in April, 2005.
At first, the thought of a seasoned band playing with precocious
child musicians who are probably the age of their own kids seems
a bit bush-league. But considering the circumstances, it feels
right; the band hails from Georgia and the album they were touring
for at the time was appropriately titled Youth.
The ASYO has no trouble keeping up their elders on the opening
rocker, "Counting The Days", one of five tracks from
Youth that appear in the set list. The orchestra plays
a relatively prominent role throughout most of the songs, many
of which are among Collective Soul's handful of hit singles (and
many of which are slower numbers that had orchestration to begin
with). At other times the symphony simply accompanies the band
but rarely takes as much a back seat as the drums do in the final
mix. But Collective Soul's music, notorious for its reliance on
shameless power-chord hooks, really takes on a pleasant dimension
with the ASYO's masterful orchestration, making for an affecting
version of "Needs", a poignant rendition of "Run",
and a haunting run-through of "Heavy". Also, "Pretty
Donna", a violin and cello piece that originally appeared
as an anomaly on the band's debut album, finally has a proper
As a band bent on studio wizardry and glammy production gimmicks,
Collective Soul plays admirably out of their comfort zone for
the evening. But in line with their radio-length songs, a few
tunes could have been much more without impatient and non-progressive
arrangements, particularly the ballad "Run". While it
still delivers, you can't help but feel that the band missed a
rare opportunity to push a great song to epic heights and surpass
the band's self-imposed pop-rock boundaries in the process. And
while the performance is good with new drummer Ryan Hoyle
and lead guitarist Joel Kosche, Collective Soul questionably
tend to cut a few corners on guitar notes ("December")
and proper backup vocals ("Listen"). Not enough to spoil
the songs, mind you, but it's unclear why a band so meticulous
in the studio didn't completely follow suit outside of it.
In the end, the heart of Collective Soul remains singer/guitarist
Ed Roland, whose singing qualities alternate between Eddie
Vedder machismo and heart-on-sleeve earnest. On this night
you can feel Roland's desperation for his band to shine on a once-in-a-lifetime
stage, and for a while it seems like expectations aren't being
met. But toward the end of the show, the crowd takes over with
a sing-along during the middle section of "Better Now"
that elicits "This is what it's all about, right here"
from an overjoyed Roland. And when the band closes with a definitive
version of breakout cover "Shine" - complete with majestic
brass and bells - Roland's dream becomes fully realized during
the orchestral slowdown before the final stretch.
Roland, a once-struggling 30-year-old musician ready to hang
up his dreams, basks in the glory of this triumphant moment,
one that only perseverance, a little luck, and just such an
occasion can bring.
Download: "Needs", "Run",
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