Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Finger Eleven defies categories

Guitarists James Black and Rick Jackett
faced each other as Scott Anderson sang during
the Finger Eleven concert in Escanaba on Aug. 15.
Bassist Sean Anderson and drummer Rich Beddoe added rhythm.


When I went to the Finger Eleven concert at the Upper Peninsula State Fair grandstand on Friday, Aug. 15, I didn't know exactly what to expect..

Although I'd heard a few of their songs, like "Paralyzer," on local radio, I'd spun their current compact disc just a few times prior to the show.

Being involved in music retailing for more than two decades, I was aware the Canadian quintet had four other compact discs in print and enjoyed considerable popularity north of the border.

Actually, the group formed in 1989 when the musicians were high school students in Burlington, Ontario. They won a talent contest in 1995 and used the proceeds to record their first album, released when the band was using a different name.

Their fourth offering, a self-titled album issued in 2003, contained the hit "One Thing" and brought the group increased recognition from fans in the United States.

Finger Eleven has been called alternative metal, hard rock, post-grunge and even pop rock. They've been influenced by dance, funk and country. Reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine even applied the unlikely term "disco-rock" to their most recent album, "Them vs. Me vs. You."

The band's sound is similar to the music of Chevelle, Stone Temple Pilots, Creed, Tool and Evanescense.

But, after seeing Finger Eleven play, I can tell you they defy music classifications.

Sponsored by the Chip- In Island Resort and Casino, the free concert began promptly at 8. p. m. Perhaps 1,000 of the band's most rabid fans stood in front of the stage. My wife Sue and I, meanwhile, along with friends Jack and Faye Mortensen, took our seats among the 6,000 spectators who packed the grandstand.

To start, the band showcased tunes from three albums.

Flanked by guitarists James Black and Rick Jackett, vocalist Scott Anderson opened with "Good Times," a track off their "Finger Eleven" release. Solid rhythm backing was provided by bassist Sean Anderson and drummer Rich Beddoe.

Next, the group pulled a great rocker, "So So Suicide," from their newest effort and then featured "Quicksand," the opening track from 1998's "Tip" album, as well as their first hit.

With "Talking to the Walls," the group returned to the newest CD and followed with "One Thing," the popular tune from five years ago.

During some songs, a small mosh pit developed among the mostly-young fans congregated in front of the stage. For the uninitiated, a mosh pit is where fans demonstrate their approval of of the show by pushing one another around. Some failed crowd surfing also emerged, drawing attention away from the band for brief periods.

As the show continued, Finger Eleven performed a hit ballad from the new album, "I'll Keep Your Memory Vague," which was paired with "Obvious Heart," another cut from their self-titled disc.

The remainder of the show highlighted newer songs including the single "Falling On;" "Gather and Give," with a barrage of metallic guitar; the anthem-like "Change the World" and "Easy Life."

Predictably, the audience had to wait until the encore for "Paralyzer," the chart-topping smash hit many people came to hear live.

Fans near the stage pumped their arms as the band roared through their biggest song. The tune segued into a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot," which morphed into a rousing version of "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)." The audience sang along with the familiar lyrics to the Pink Floyd classic from 1980, "We don't need no education, we don't need no mind control."

After paying tribute to those two rock 'n' roll legends, "Paralyzer" re-emerged. The medley ended the program after just 70 minutes.

Guitarists Black and Jackett changed instruments frequently through the show, switching back and forth between Yamaha and Gibson models. The shaggy-haired Jackett leapt about his side of the stage in spastic bursts, showing enthusiasm surpassing even the patrons in the mosh pit.

The entire band, with the exception of the bassist, showed unbridled energy, with the stoic Sean Anderson seemingly content to let the others command the attention of the audience while he plucked the strings of his bass.

In all, the band played eight of the 11 songs from their current release, written collectively by all five band members. Produced, recorded and mixed by Johnny K, "Them vs. Me vs. You" was assembled at Groovemaster Studios in Chicago. Earlier this year, the radio-friendly album won the Juno award (Canada's Grammy) for Rock Album of the Year.

Touring veterans, the group put on a concise show, especially considering efforts to get the crowd delivered to midway venders shortly after 9 p. m.

Although I didn't know that many Finger Eleven songs in advance, I didn't find them to be much different than any other modern-day band. They use a basic line-up of guitars, bass and drums to create their own music. They've certainly been influenced by many styles of music. That's been unchanged since rock 'n' roll itself evolved from blues, folk and country music more than 50 years ago.

Now, if you must put Finger Eleven into a category, simply call them a rock band.

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