by Michael McCarthy
all photos by Khoi Ton, Mohegan Sun, used with permission
16th, I had the pleasure of seeing The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express Tour – 3 Doors Down and Collective Soul – live at Mohegan Sun’s arena, which just so happens to be my favorite arena to see concerts at. As always, the venue had excellent acoustics. In fact, the sound was so good that I could even understand the lyrics to songs that I wasn’t as familiar. Usually, I can’t understand them very well at shows elsewhere unless I already know the songs by heart. Granted, that’s partially because I’ve lost some of my hearing from attending 200+ concerts over the years and never wearing earplugs. However, it’s also because vocals never sound as clear at other arenas I frequent, such as Boston’s TD Garden (although it’s still a great place to see shows). Suffice to say, I highly recommend that you see arena tours at Mohegan Sun’s arena if you’re in the area. In fact, I’m from the Boston area and we make the two and a half hour drive to Mohegan for shows frequently because they never sound better than they do at Mohegan and there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.
Now, let’s talk about the performances!
Collective Soul took to the stage first at 8 PM sharp or very close to it. From the moment he came on stage, the now gray-haired frontman Ed Roland looked like he was having a blast. He was just bursting with kinetic energy as they opened with “Now’s The Time” followed by “Over Me.” Then it was time for a hit. One of the band’s biggest, in fact. None other than “Shine,” which the top hat wearing Ed played parts of on piano, which added a nice touch. To that end, I’ve rarely seen a frontman look as happy as Ed did while performing “Shine,” parts of which he had the audience sing. And, yes, nearly everyone in the venue knew the lyrics. (I was the one loser who’d forgotten one of the verses!) Of course, Ed had the audience singing off and on throughout their set and we were happy to do so.
Dean Roland and Jesse Triplette’s guitars were practically on fire, electrifying the crowd with their playing throughout the night. Jesse has only been with the band for four years, but you would’ve sworn that he was their original lead guitarist, the way he nailed every song, solos included. Also somewhat new to the band is drummer Johnny Rabb, who I interviewed recently, and he never missed a beat, playing the songs as they were originally recorded on the albums they hailed from. Bassist Will Turpin, one of the band’s founding members, sounded great, too. His playing combined with Johnny’s drumming kept the rhythm nice and tight throughout the show, a veritable force to be reckoned with.
“Shine” was not the only hit in the set, the band playing all their biggest songs, namely “December,” “The World I Know,” “Gel” and “Run,” the latter of which closed their fourteen song set with Ed finishing the song alone on an acoustic guitar.
Before they played “Gel,” Ed pointed out that it was written 24 years ago and said, “I want us to learn and to listen and to love.” Much of the setlist consisted of songs from their first two albums, particularly their self-titled sophomore effort. That said, some songs by their other, more recent albums were included as well and were much appreciated by this reviewer. (I just wish they would’ve done the single “Hollywood,” my all-time favorite song by the band.) I should also point out that the band kept things even more interesting with the video footage on the screens at both sides of the drums. We saw everything from a mermaid underwater to white horses running, the images bursting with color.
Ultimately, the super enthusiastic “Collective Soul” proved that they still have everything it takes to please a large arena audience packed with fans. I should also point out that their recent albums are every bit as good as their first few. Their last studio album, See What You Started By Continuing, is my favorite record from the band’s nine studio album discography.
3 Doors Down wasted no time getting on stage with only fifteen minutes at most in between when Collective Soul ended their set and when they began their own. Frontman Brad Arnold held the audience in the palm of his hand throughout their set, which began with “Duck And Run” and “Time of My Life.”
To be honest, I’d never really gotten into 3 Doors Down, but I was especially impressed by their lyrics, many of which I could relate to as someone bipolar who regularly deals with depression. I especially liked “It’s Not My Time” and “Away From the Sun,” although there seemed to be a melancholic air about most of their songs.
The band was all about America with flags on both sides of the stage and on guitarist Chris Henderson’s stars and stripes guitar strap and matching sneakers. They also showed the American flag on the video screens at times. As if that wasn’t enough, they covered The Charlie Daniels Band’s “In America” and played their own song “Citizen Soldier,” the latter of which I’d always found tacky because it seemed to be a pro-war anthem, but damn if I wasn’t singing along by the time it was over. Also, for $40, the band was even selling American flags – with one minor alteration – they had the band’s logo on them.
Brad, ever the vibrant frontman, never ceased to run from one end of the stage to the other during their entire 17 song set, working the crowd splendidly. Saving the best for last, the band closed out the night with their biggest hits, “Kryptonite,” “Here Without You” and “When I’m Gone.” “Here Without You” was a song I’d known and loved, but never knew who it was by. Needless to say, I was delighted when the band played it. Then again, I was impressed by their entire set. Maybe not entirely with “Citizen Soldier,” but I wholeheartedly loved every other song they performed and now consider myself a fan. In fact, I was streaming their Greatest Hits album while I was writing this.
It should be mentioned that most of the dates also have the mighty Soul Asylum as a special guest, but for reasons unknown to me they were not part of the show I caught. Fortunately, they seem to play Mohegan Sun’s free concert club, the Wolf Den, once a year, and I’ve been able to catch them there twice and they were superb. I’m actually surprised that they weren’t headlining this tour, considering their numerous hits. Come to think of it, I think Soul Asylum has more hits under their belt than 3 Doors Down or Collective Soul. Oh well, most of you will get to see all three bands and Soul Asylum’s brief set – I understand they only have time to do five songs – is better than no Soul Asylum at all.
Bottom line? If the Rock & Roll Express Tour is heading to your city, I highly recommend you check it out. Get on board already!