Words by Lewd Scoff
Pix by Rashid AlKamraikhi
As I walked into the Triffid I was blessed with the rocktastic good time vibes of TAILOR MADE REJECTS featuring Valerie Morrigan of CHEMICAL PRISONER fame on bass, (having replaced Nathan Stiffel in early 2023) and by Jeebus did they impress. An amazing local band with such international promise. So comfortable and rehearsed that their audience interactions were the perfect warm-up to CANDLEBOX.
Every member of the band exuberated stage presence that applied the golden rule that you always act like you are playing to a million people and those million people love what you do. Be the Rock Star so to speak. Lead singer Ryan Valley’s soaring vocals were pitch-perfect and a good reminder that there is still hope for hard rock within the mindset of younger generations. Set highlights for me were the ‘oh no, the accelerator pedal is stuck and we’re in top gear’ energy of I Don’t Know and the final song One of a Kind that had bassist Valerie flapping her arms like a guitar Hero/Rock Band avatar on expert mode to well penned lyrics “Break me from these chains. These wings were made to fly, I’m sick of being buried down by the right way to live my life”
Lead guitarist Alejandro Moro commanded the frets of his Gibson Les Paul ably backed by Ryan’s confident rhythm work on the Gibson SG. The perfect guitar combination for this style of alt-hard rock. My only gripe is that I feel that drummer Zakory Cutmore needs to snap his wrists more thus striking the skins harder to get that consistent in-your-face sound that is detrimental to the overall vibe of the genre, and really helps meld the bands sound as a cohesive unit.
When you have Steve Palmer, one of Brisbane’s finest sound engineers on the desk, you can give it your all. Fantastic drummer though, and this is just a subtle nuance that may be due to fear of damaging the shared kit.
Still, if you’re a fan of ALTER BRIDGE, FOO FIGHTERS and the soon-to-be-raved-about CANDLEBOX, then TAILOR MADE REJECTS should be in your favourites list on your chosen streaming service.
Now, onto the main attraction. CANDLEBOX have always had this stigma associated to them that they were industry plants that attached themselves to the early 90’s Seattle grunge scene and I for one have never really understood that mindset. Albeit, back in the day we didn’t have the internet to fact check and read/watch countless interviews on the internet and the music press pretty much controlled the narrative.
So, when CANDLEBOX burst onto the scene 2 years after NIRVANA’s seminal album NEVERMIND serving as a conduit for people who aren’t Genre Gestapos to safely enjoy top hard rock acts like GUNS N ROSES as well as your PEARL JAMS and MUDHONEYS, purists freaked out that they were the first band to be signed to MADONNA’S freshly created record label MAVERICK RECORDS. Lead singer Kevin Martin moved to Seattle when he was 14 and ended up working in a shoe store (he even declared that he was wearing Doc Marten boots from the store in question) alongside Susan Silver, manager of bands such as SOUNDGARDEN, ALICE IN CHAINS and SCREAMING TREES. This connection puts him in the historical narrative of the great city and dismisses all who question his authenticity. As a musician, you go where the work and then music you want to play is, especially pre-interwebs. Put that all together and you get CANDLEBOX. Fuck the haters. This is classic rock and roll performed with passion and genuineness.
The set started with the sound of someone flipping stations on an FM radio permeating the speakers playing key songs from prominent Seattle acts synonymous with the 90s ‘grunge’ scene, culminating with the radio announcer mentioning our heroes.
The crowd erupted as the band members filled the stage, but went ballistic when singer Kevin Martin reared his gorgeous head. As they launched into their first song of the night Arrow, you could tell the room was filled with rabid fans keen to see the the band play their only ever time in Brisbane, as this is the only occasion they have played in Australia and will be their last as well.
Better late than never.
We all expected this concert to be rich in tracks from the debut album, so it was nice to hear Simple Lessons, from their 1995 sophomore effort Lucy. What Do You Need? from their eighth album The Long Goodbye, released in 2023 and the apt name of this tour was up next and featured back vocals from bassist Adam Kury, the bands’ 3rd bassist in their illustrious career. The song is sleazy and sexy with an awesome octave riff and dirty halftime feel. Great song.
Before launching into slow burner Change from their self-titled debut, Kevin admitted he wrote the song on mushrooms. Another important song in their catalogue that has that signature ‘grunge’ loud/soft verse/chorus dynamic with a double time bridge, but dang they do it well. Quality songwriting performed exquisitely. We get the 1 st example of guitarist Brian Quinns’ prowess on the six-string with a tasty wah-wah solo that made the ladies sit up and take notice.
4th song in an already kick as set was Blossom, a beautiful song with an epic chorus dedicated to Kevin’s brother-in-law Ryan as he also revealed to the uninitiated he is married to an Australian woman (proving he has impeccable taste).
Following that was the 1st song off the debut album, Don’t You, and by now the crowd are in full sing-along mode. As if only played as a request by their sound guy, 10,000 Horses from the album Happy Pills was revealed to be hated by Kevin, both song and album. For me, it came out when their sound was tired and they weren’t exploring new options, but has slowly grown on me to be a decent song from a great selection of songs. Hindsight is awesome sometimes.
Before cranking out fan favourite from last year’s album The Long Goodbye, Elegante (which is another example of how this band still knows how to write a decent rock tune 30 years and eight albums deep into their career,) Kev introduces the band. Drummer BJ Kerwin only joined the band in 2021 and follows a strong lineage of drummers keeping groove for CANDLEBOX, including Dave Crusen who drummed on PEARL JAM’s debut album Ten. BJ is a great solid drummer and keeps pace well, only self-admitting to screwing up once all night, but like a true professional, played it off to the point that if he didn’t scoff, the audience would not have even known he slipped up. The song features gorgeous three-part vocal harmony in the chorus as rhythm guitarist Island Styles joins Adam and Kevin on singing duties. Their voices blend beautifully in the Triffid’s acoustic realm.
They follow up with A Sweet Summertime, which considering the vast catalogue of strong songs that would work in a live setting they had to choose from, even to jam on GUNS N ROSES’, Sweet child O Mine in the bridge to wake the audience up with the band playing the opening riff, 1st verse and chorus to the ‘Gunners’ classic The audience happily sings along further cementing my original claim that the average CANDLEBOX fan cares not of style and genre. Just good music played well.
We were then treated to the song Punks which was teased by the opening bars of Good Times Bad Times by LED ZEPPELIN. The song is about the feeling of disappointment or disenchantment that occurs when one’s beliefs, ideals, or expectations are shattered or proven to be false and the power of individuality in a conformist society. Cracking track.
Cover Me, which is revealed to be about Kevin’s disdain for organised religion is played with passion. Obvious when you hear the lyrics :
“You never change… Never changed
A fuckin’ thing
Not a… A fuckin’ thing
But you… You cover me
And give me shelter from the storm”
Cell Phone Jesus got a run-through which had rhythm guitarist Island Styles jump on the Nord keyboard for the essential piano part that dominates this track from last year’s The Long Goodbye. The songs’ dynamics were put on full display at The Triffid, proving it to be one of Brisbane’s best live venues sound-wise.
I have to say that the following song Riptide from 2021’s Wolves L.P is one of those songs where, for me, the verse trumps the chorus. A beautiful inclusion to the set however that had the crowd singing along to that most universal of lyric ‘nana nanana nana nanana.’ The song has a modern sense of melody that wouldn’t be a stranger on any stadium-worthy artist of this era (Sean Mendez for example) as it was written by Keith Longo who is a talented singer/songwriter from Los Angeles who shows a more pop-based flair in his original interpretation.
The tease is finally over when Kevin introduces the song everyone is here to witness. Far Behind is easily their biggest hit to the point that the uninitiated would consider them a one-hit wonder due to its popularity compared to other songs. It is revealed that the song is a dedication to MOTHER LOVE BONE front mane Andy Wood, but is dedicated to all the lost heroes of that era including Mark Lanegan, Layne Stayley, Scott Weiland, and Cornell. ‘Sing it with me so we can wake them up wherever they are’ Kevin requests, and the crowd delivers. Simply perfect. A moment in time I for one will never forget.
Having grown up with a copy of the unreleased demo version of this album INTO THE FLAMES, it was a letdown that they didn’t include JIMI HENDRIX’s Voodoo Child (slight return) in the breakdown section (a live version featuring this was also included on the Far Behind single), but beggars can’t be choosers.
It is the following song that I am most eager to hear. You from the debut album is easily my most treasured CANDLEBOX song and apparently also vocalist Kevin Martin’s favourite song of theirs as well.
Oh my god did I get emotional throughout those two songs. Worth the admission price alone. The set, and the last time Brisbane will ever witness these musicians play their songs was rounded out by the bluesy Rain. Consisting of a back-and-forth guitar duel, this turns into an all-out jam with drum off between BJ and Kevin (on the floor tom) that culminates into a double-time section that sets the band onto Mach 10.2 in line with the movie Maverick thus ending where they began (on Maverick Records) (sic).
Thank you CANDLEBOX for helping your dedicated Australian fanbase tick a must-do off their bucket list. If you are in Sydney NSW, Richmond VIC, or Adelaide SA, you still may have a chance to grab a ticket and catch a moment in history never to be repeated.