Two years have passed since Sully Erna introduced his “Avalon” side project to a Western New York audience for the first time, and, upon digesting last Saturday night’s show in The Bear’s Den, time has brought nothing but supplementary resonance to material that was already oozing with soul from infancy to creative adulthood.
Despite featuring a scaled-back troupe and modest production value, Erna gave the sold-out crowd an experience that felt richer and more primal than anything he’s delivered to date. The songs chisel their way inside the cockles of one’s heart and make everything else appear elementary in comparison, which is a response that more current artists should aspire to extract.
Sure, fans work themselves into a fit whenever Godsmack comes to town, but Avalon’s ambitions extend beyond a mere 90-minute set. This music’s message and conceptual rhythms are meant to be carried into daily life without becoming swallowed up by every other product or advertisement competing for the consumer’s mental space.
Erna has said that Godsmack is taking a break during 2013, but, even if the hiatus proves to be longer, he’ll have more than enough inspiration to remain a vibrant force on the scene.
The evening’s early technical difficulties didn’t matter much, because Erna rattled off “Awake,” “Keep Away,” and “Running Blind” without allowing the mishap to break his concentration. He was dialed in from the beginning and his emotion continued to build until the show’s final moments.
His inclusion of “Nutshell” from Alice in Chains into the set laid the foundation for a stirring tribute to artists whose spirits departed the earthly plain much too soon such as Ronnie Van Zant, Jimi Hendrix, and Layne Staley.
When the “Avalon” portion of the program commenced, Lisa Guyer, Tim Theriault, Chris Lester, and David Stefanelli arrived on stage to a rapturous ovation and tore into the album’s title track with ease.
The individuals whom Erna has assembled to help bring his visions to life use their extraordinary verve and virtuosity to bring an unforgettable experience to the listener.
Guyer’s saucy blues howl melds perfectly with Erna during “My Light” and “Eyes of a Child,” while Theriault and Lester trade licks back and forth in true rock fashion to keep things heavy when needed.
“My Light” is arguably the most beautiful composition on Erna’s resumé to date and to hear it performed live is one of Avalon’s greatest treasures. Accompanied by a video montage of Erna and his daughter, the song generates many tear-inducing moments in which the audience gladly comes together as one.
What further separated this evening from the initial offering in 2011 were the surprises along the way.
Sully and Lisa cranked out a stellar version of Godsmack’s “Touche” and the band paid tribute to Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterpiece “Dark Side of the Moon” by sharing an interpretation of “Time,” which was augmented by the room’s luscious acoustic ambiance.
To close, a mash-up of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and “Hey Jude” from The Beatles was dragged out to give the audience an opportunity to take over the vocal duties.
When the band exited the stage, it was clear that the 2013 edition of “Avalon” is still one of the must-see events on the touring circuit.