Houston's Blue October played a 2-day set at Stubb's Bar B Q Thanksgiving weekend in Austin, and considering the buzz off their last album, I was going to have to be pretty lucky if I wanted to see them. After first dropping them from the label, Universal gave them a rare second look that seems to have paid off this year in the hit single "Hate Me." Even though it was a holiday weekend with plenty of other music acts performing in town, Blue October sold out both nights of its Austin show, and boy, let me tell you, it was packed.
I really was lucky to get in, a very last minute thing. I did so only by the grace of Blue October's tour manager Travis, who was able to somehow extract a press pass for me even though I was late and he had already turned in his guest list for the night. I had already tried my normal avenues like the record label and PR guys, but had been skunked in my attempts and had pretty much written off my chances of attending. Travis went that extra mile for me and got me in, and it was appreciated.
This was going to be an odd night for me. Not only was I going to try to cover Blue October's set, I was going to try to simultaneously attend my 25th high school reunion, 10 blocks away at Scholz Beer Garden, an Austin landmark pub and restaurant since the late 1800s. Reunion started at 6 pm, Blue October was to perform at 9:45, but the lines for the show had formed long before I found a parking place. Grabbing my camera bag and a big handful of T-Shirts for the band and crew, I secured the photo pass, handed Travis the shirts, and then decided to walk the ten blocks humping 50 pounds of camera gear. Not the brightest decision I've ever made, but I weighed the odds of finding a parking spot at all back by Stubb's when I returned and decided to take my chances.
Arriving at Scholze's 20 minutes or so later, sweaty and out of breath, I parked my camera bag on a table, ambled up to the bar, and ordered a Coke. Looking around the room, man, I felt old. I got to chat with a bunch of my high school friends about how fat/bald/old we all were becoming, and reminisce about getting stuffed in gym lockers by the football team. What fun. Mentioning that I was covering Blue October, and would have to cut out early, really brought home just how old I was becoming, when the only person that recognized the band was someone's 14 year old daughter. She did say they were her favorite, though. I think we both would have rather been at the concert. After about an hour and a half reliving old memories, I needed to start heading back. I pigeonholed a buddy of mine who didn't look like he was having that much fun, and talked him into giving me a lift back to Stubb's.
I arrived in time to catch the last couple songs by the opening act, but way beyond the first three songs, so pictures were out of the question for the moment. Instead, I began planning how to actually get to the photo pit. This was going to be the tough part. At Stubb's, the only way to get to the pit is going through the crowd. Thinking that I could work my way up easier on the left side, I tried slipping up to the front. After a lot of "Excuse me," "Pardon me," me, myself, and my bag eventually made it only to find that the access to the pit from the left was blocked.
Turning around and going through the "Excuse me," "Pardon me," routine again in reverse, I had backed all the way out. Finding myself over by the concessions, I ran into Sean Claes, editor of Austin's INsite magazine, who had just gotten done working his way out of the camera pit. When the time came we agreed to both push up together so we would only inconvenience people once.
Working our way up to the pit together, with Sean opening a hole in the crowd and me following, worked out well, and we settled into the pit between sets. Sean had interviewed the band earlier and it was good to hear some of his insights and questions.
When the lights lowered and then were raised, Blue October filed onstage. Lead singer Justin Furstenfeld , who recently re-injured his leg broken earlier in May, was helped to his spot onstage by the road manager, Travis, and as he hobbled to his place behind the mike the hundreds of girls in the audience screamed as if all wanting to volunteer to nurse him back to health. In fact, Blue October had cut the rest of its tour short, leaving only a few Texas dates, close to home, while Justin recovers.
Hobbled as he was, Justin alternated between sitting on a bar stool and standing up using his mike stand as a crutch to move about the stage. While the injury may have slowed down his onstage travels, it had no impact on his voice as he belted out number after number. Before I knew it, song three was wrapping up and Sean and I were packing. Running the gauntlet one last time, we finally emerged from the crowd and I headed to the back to grab a coke and watch the show.
Opening with "You Make Me Smile", they chugged through 20 songs, each seperated by the screams of the crowd. It wasn't until song 16 that they played "Hate Me." This is a band that seems to have found its sound and its core audience. They sounded fantastic as well, Sean's brother Jeremy plinking away at the drums in back, Ryan Delahoussaye alternating his time between violin, mandolin and keyboards. C.B. Hudson on guitar and Matt Noveskey on bass spent all night dueling with each other, and Justin, seemingly tied to the chair, was hard pressed not to join in. The show closed with "Italian Radio," and before the band had time to get to their bus a line of screaming fans had already begun forming.
Kudos to Blue October and Stubb's for hosting these shows as benefits for Austin's Blue Santa program.