Irving Plaza, New York, NY
July 12th, 2012
Concert Review: Fuel at Irving Plaza
The turn of this century was a strange time for most of us- from a Y2K scare which proved meaningless to wardrobe choices which, in retrospect, were utterly ridiculous. In the year 2000, it certainly seemed that the Pennsylvania based band, Fuel was ready to take the next step and become perhaps the country’s hottest young rock outfit. With their wildly successful 1998 release, “Sunburn,” catapulting them to an opening slot on Aerosmith’s tour and an even better sophomore album- 2000’s “Something Like Human”- led by hit single “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” blowing up the modern rock charts, the band seemed destined for bigger things in the coming years. What was to follow was reported internal strife between bandmates and with their label and a commercial disappointment with the release of 2003’s “Natural Selection,” an album and tour plagued by the perils of a frontman recovering from surgery to repair a deviated septum. As their internal battles became public knowledge, the original band would disintegrate leaving several iterations of Fuel, in name alone, working in various capacities as the years progressed.
With a relatively amicable resolution now behind them, frontman Brett Scallions, now fully recovered, has re-tooled the band, teaming with former members of Shinedown and Candiria to round out the latest incarnation of Fuel. And Thursday night, the band teamed with Filter for a co-headlining run and a stop at New York City’s Irving Plaza proving that despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges leading up to this point, Fuel still has plenty left in the tank.
A surprisingly undersold crowd filled the main floor space at the historic venue in Union Square, with almost too much room to move around before show time. That is, until Scallions and company triumphantly made their way to the stage and the room then began to fill up accordingly. Their intense 75 minute set spanned a good portion of Fuel’s first two albums, while sprinkling in some new tracks from the band’s rumored forthcoming release. But more importantly, it served more as a reminder to the fans in the house on hand- this band had written A LOT of hits.
Decked out in a striped t-shirt and longer, stragglier hair than we remembered since seeing him last, Scallions ignored much of the adoration being showered upon him, immediately launching into the aggressive “Last Time” and “Empty Spaces” from the band’s sophomore release. During the insanely infectious “Jesus or A Gun,” Scallions the showman, perched himself atop an elevated riser some fifteen feet off the ground, slapping hands with concertgoers watching from the balcony as exhilarated fans sang the words at him from below. Familiar tunes like the never-leaves-your-head “Bad Day,” a haunting rendition of “Sunburn,” and the crowd exploding “Shimmer,” paced an exciting set that played like a ‘Greatest Hits’ disc from our teenage years.
Meanwhile, the band themselves capably held their own in recreating the sound of the original lineup. Many of the band’s slower cuts were performed with distortion, giving them a much more raw sound than we were used to. Comparatively, many of the band’s heavier songs were performed more fluid musically, almost melodically in fact. But regardless of the song being played, fans made sure to take every opportunity to create a spread out pit on the Irving Plaza floor, prodded on by a defiant Scallions, never looking anything but comfortable being back on stage and genuinely pleased to be performing again. His mannerisms looked exactly as we’d remembered, but the singer- a little older, and now a father of two- struggled at times to find his footing vocally. The backing band would perhaps be better suited to have someone on backing vocals to help harmonize with the singer, during songs where Scallions’ vocals strain to reach his previous heights. Though his voice is probably 95% of what it used to be, Scallions, the performer remains on point, holding his audience in his palms at his will. Meanwhile, the work of drummer Ken Schalk deserves both mention and praise, for pounding through every song proficiently and aggressively, as if to smash his sticks into oblivion. His intensity throughout the evening proved to be among the show’s many highlights.
The staying power of the band and some of the defining rock songs that have left their mark on the past two decades are undeniable, as any attendee of Thursday night’s show will tell you. The rousing versions of “Innocent” and the aforementioned “Hemorrhage” as the show’s closers capped a nostalgic and triumphant return for the band to the New York City area. And while the place wasn’t entirely sold out, the Fuelies on hand made sure to show Scallions and his new bandmates that despite his lengthy absence, they haven’t forgotten the lasting impact that he’s made on their lives as a truly magnetic frontman, with a penchant for creating treasured rock anthems.
- Jane Van Arsdale