Live Review, 5/16/12: Creed Capably Sends the Warfield Back to 1999

Categories: Last Night

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Creed at the Warfield last night.

By BYARD DUNCAN

Creed
Eve to Adam
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
The Warfield

Better than: You'd expect it to be. But still not great.

In concert, the men of Creed -- vocalist Scott Stapp, guitarist Mark Tremonti, and drummer Scott Phillips -- appear flawless. They approach their craft with an earnest dedication, a penchant for showmanship and an almost aggressive aversion to stylistic tinkering. You forget just how deep their bench of radio singles is until you're watching them prance across a stage, cranking out one hit after another with a near-robotic precision. It's beautiful in the same way a car engine or a Rube Goldberg machine is beautiful.

Stapp, who is now 39, has almost as much control over his Vedderian baritone as he did when Creed released its sophomore album, Human Clay, in 1999. Tonight, he leads a crowd of about 850 Warfield patrons through that entire album, stopping in between songs to deliver vaguely religious tidbits: "I find myself looking for the river every day," he says before adding, "I can't live in this world without something greater than myself."

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The band's first two songs -- "Are You Ready" and "What If" -- are electric. Tremonti's guitar tone is a monstrous tsunami of fuzz; Phillips pounds away with metronomic precision. Stapp belts and writhes, beckoning to the audience one moment, dropping to his knees the next. He has years of practice being a rock star behind him, and it shows. He stomps, pumps his fists, and throws back his hair at all the right moments, and every word he sings buzzes with a sincere urgency.

But by the third song, it's clear that Stapp has reached for too much too soon. His high notes begin to carry a dry hoarseness, and his sweat-drenched T-shirt clings to a belly that was very likely not a part of 1999's live theatrics. While Tremonti takes over steering the ship, Stapp is forced to dial back his own intensity. As a result, the performance -- though still technically perfect -- begins to plateau.

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Things pick back up when the band launches into "With Arms Wide Open" and "Higher," two of its most famous songs (the former, in fact, earned them a Grammy). At one point, Stapp disappears behind the drum riser and reappears, suspended on some sort of as-yet hidden platform. He delivers the final chorus of "Higher" with his arms spread and his knees bent, as though he might jump over Phillips or simply fly away. But he never takes off; instead, he steps back down to earth and embraces Tremonti.

It's unclear what exactly a Creed show means in 2012. The band does not appear interested in interrogating its own hyper-macho rock archaisms; nor do its fans seem to want anything they don't already know the words to. The result is a sort of willful suspension of time from both parties -- a sonic memory capsule crammed with distorted guitar acrobatics, guttural vocals and the sort of faith-based triumphalism that began elbowing its way past grunge in the late-'90s. If only sheer technique and rock star bravado could cement the cracks that the decline of a genre opened up. But bless Creed for trying.

Critic's Notebook

Overheard near the bar: "Ten dollars!? That's more than I was planning on spending on a blowjob for tonight!"

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Warfield Theatre

982 Market, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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