Photography by Heather Kaplan
Gavin Rossdale doesn’t age. The man turns 52 this October, and yet he looks younger than this writer.* In fact, he looks better now than he did in the ’90s, back when he was just a scrawny hunk deluxe in a bunch of torn Gap sweaters singing “Glycerine”. Today, the Bush frontman looks like he just strolled out of Muscle Beach, California, pumping iron, sporting bleach hair, and forgetting he was ever an English singer-songwriter. Okay, so the hair style is a little too American Pie 2 — c’mon, not everyone’s perfect — but very few veteran rock stars look as stellar and youthful as Rossdale does at his age.
The music also holds up. Eh, kind of. Ugh, not really. The problem with this incarnation of Bush is that this isn’t really Bush. Look at the lineup — or, you know, the band on stage — and you’ll see that Rossdale and drummer Robin Goodridge are the only original members left. That’s always been the problem about this reunion, and surprise, surprise, it’s still the problem. Why? Well, as the years go by and this lineup continues to release new albums, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that former lead guitarist Nigel Pulsford was just as crucial as Rossdale. If not more.
Click back on any Pulsford-era Bush song — from the very beginning with “Everything Zen” to the very end with “Float” — and you’ll recognize two things: 1.) Rossdale’s vague, inane lyricism and 2.) Pulsford’s extraterrestrial arrangements. Commercial viability aside, the reason Bush powered through all the Nirvana comparisons early on was because Pulford’s handiwork behind the guitar was always more Jonny Greenwood than Kurt Cobain. For instance, the way he made the guitar cry out in pain on “Swallowed” is likely why we could embrace the blatant repetition. If you need more proof, revisit the band’s cruelly underrated third album, The Science of Things.
Fortunately for them, lead guitarist Chris Traynor knows how to replicate all the parts down to a tee, from deep cuts like “Reasons” to obvious fare like “The Chemicals Between Us” and “Little Things”. Unfortunately for them, he’s fairly vanilla when it comes to actually writing new material, as evidenced by pretty much every song they’ve ever written post-Golden State. To be fair, “The Sound of Winter” isn’t awful, especially in comparison to embarrassing trash like “Mad Love” and “Peace-S”, but it would at best be a glorified B-side 15 years ago. What’s worse is that even Rossdale admitted how nobody cares about the new songs, they hit up the bar, and yada, yada, yada.
Now, it’s sad and completely unfair to expect any artist to play strictly the old stuff, but here’s a valuable lesson for Bush: Don’t go overboard with the new songs — play three tops — and have some fun with your catalog. One of the true highlights of the night was when Rossdale veered off the setlist and performed super-unexpected Science single “Letting the Cables Sleep” in honor of a recent friend who passed away. Sure, it nixed out the possibility of hearing “Alien”, which was originally slotted there on the setlist, but that kind of spontaneity was refreshing and also found Rossdale operating on another level of passion. They should do more of that; after all, they have the songs.**
Still, when Rossdale and co. were on, they were unstoppable. Take away his guitar and the singer becomes a rapscallion, running into the crowd and hugging fans at the barrier as he casually sings his ’90s alternative. As he’s wont to do, he leapt off the stage during the initial set closer “Little Things” and sang the song with the fans on the theatre’s second level, even standing at the lip of the opera box seating off to the side. Waving his hands in the air and leaning on his most die-hard fans, you could tell he was feeding off the energy, and to be quite honest, the feeling was totally mutual as everyone sang their hearts off until the distortion faded into pummeling applause.
On the flip side, The Kickback’s new material off their forthcoming sophomore album, Weddings and Funerals, sounded downright phenomenal. New single “Will T” stole the ears of countless Bush fans, who could be seen clapping along to the beat as opposed to staring down at their phones. While “Reptile Fund”, arguably the best of the new batch, oozed with the type of melody everyone wants from a summer song. Of course, it helped that singer-songwriter Billy Yost was in such great spirits, too, ricocheting around as if the stage was still too small. “This is unbelievable,” he observed, embracing their big hometown show. He waxed nostalgic for a moment and shared a quick anecdote about playing down the street at The Green Mill’s Paper Machete shows, where he would watch bands load into the Riviera and think: one day.
Everything zen, everything zen.
* = I turn 33 in August.
** = Seriously, when you’re carving out 17-song setlists and not including stuff like “Alien”, “Mouth”, “Cold Contagious”, “Warm Machine”, “Straight, No Chaser”, “40 Miles from the Sun”, “Warm Machine”, “Solutions”, and “Inflatable”, you’re doing it wrong.
The Kickback Setlist:
Sting’s Teacher Years
The Chemicals Between Us
The Sound of Winter
The Only Way Out
The People That We Love
The Beat of Your Heart
Sky Turns Day Glo
Letting the Cables Sleep
The One I Love (R.E.M. cover)