TVD Live Shots: Candlebox at the O2 Islington Academy,
6/19

I was a teenager in the ’90s growing up in the Midwest of the United States and I remember the exact day and time when grunge single-handedly killed hair metal. It was during an episode of MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and host Rikki Rachtman had just finished introducing Motley Crue’s “Don’t Go Away Mad” as the number one Skullcrusher of the week (yeah, I know). Rachtman declared to the viewers, “I have a new band from Seattle that I think you all are going to like, they are called Nirvana.” This was the nail in the coffin for bands like Poison and Warrant, but it paved the way for a new breed of rock ‘n’ roll.

While Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains owned the harder edge of the genre, there was room for a band to step in and bring a bit of soul to this new sound. That band would be Candlebox. Their debut self-titled record is arguably one of the best debuts of the era and it stood out from its peers because of one man, Kevin Martin. The first time I saw the band was during a promotion for Jolt Cola, an overly caffeinated drink that was all the rage with rebellious teenagers at the time. If you brought a bottle cap from the drink to the venue (the famed Mississippi Nights in this case) you could get in free.

There were about 20 people at the show that night as the album had just been released and it was just beginning to get traction. I remember the band being on stage but missing their singer, literally calling out to the crowd, “Has anyone seen our singer Kevin?” Several minutes later said singer comes waltzing through the crowd unassumingly as if he’s at his own house party with high school friends. Seconds later as he grabs the mic, history would change once again with one of the most electric and dynamic performances that I’ve seen.

Candlebox blasted through songs from their debut record and didn’t give a fuck that the venue was less than a quarter full. I think it was a Monday night which didn’t help either. Regardless, just a few weeks later the first single from the band started a slow burn up the charts only to be followed by three more singles that pretty much took over rock radio for the next year. Candlebox would have no problem selling out venues for the foreseeable future.

While I’ve always been a fan, I lost track of the band over the past decade or so. When I saw that they were coming back to London, I had to see the gig. While singer Kevin Martin is one of two original members still with the band, it would come down to that being all that really matters. This has always been his band and his voice is what makes them so unique. Two songs into the set that evening after forgetting how much I loved these guys, it quickly became apparent that Martin’s voice was still the driving force of the band followed closely by the songs.

I can’t believe how great the songs from the debut album hold up. The setlist that night pulled heavily from the self-titled smash including all the classics “Change,” “You,” “Cover Me,” and of course “Far Behind,” but “Blossom” was the standout for me. There were also a couple of songs from 2016’s Disappearing in Airports that sounded great live including “Supernova” which turned me on to the record and got me listening to the band again after a hiatus. All in all, I thought the set was brilliant and the band was absolutely on fire. My only complaint is that there were not more songs from their sophomore release Lucy which I spent a tremendous amount of time listening to over the years. I would say that it easily deserves 3 to 4 songs in the set, then again, I’m just thrilled that I got a chance to see them again and they were as great as I remember them being in the ’90s.

Some final thoughts on the gig as I listen to their catalogue on Spotify after buzzing from the show—these guys were supposed to be the next Pearl Jam, so what happened? I think the short answer is, the music industry happened. Lucy, although a brilliant record was probably a bit too heavy for fans of the breakthrough release, and Happy Pills was a bit too experimental as a mash-up of the first two records and probably confused everyone. That’s the problem with the music business, especially around major labels; unreal expectations and enough pressure to force a band to rush the creative process. I wonder what would have happened if Martin would have taken a break for a solo record after Lucy and reset before Happy Pills? Either way, I’m thrilled to see the band still making great records at a time when they could have easily stepped back and focused on other things. It would be cool to see Martin do a solo acoustic storytelling tour though to hear what really happened.

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