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Blessid Union of Souls at Saint Mary’s

Observer Scene | Sunday, September 12, 2004

Despite a five- year absence from Top 40 radio, Blessid Union of Souls’ career may not be finished just yet. If Thursday night’s set at St. Mary’s O’Laughlin Auditorium is any indication, there will be plenty of fans welcoming them back into the limelight. Widely known for its emotional and accessible tunes that speak directly to the audience, the band has been recently touring the nation playing small-scale venues and recording new material for an upcoming album. Despite this fresh material, the band is mostly remembered for several 90’s love songs that take one back to those awkward junior high dances. Thursday’s set consisted of mostly these old standbys, some with new twists that kept the audience pleasantly surprised and energized throughout the two hours. 2 Skinny Dorks, an unsigned act from Cleveland, helped jump start the crowd with its energy filled, Dave Matthews Band-inspired opening set. Contrary to the name, the band actually consists of three full-time members and three other non-touring members. The group has been playing together for six years and was recently named the best unsigned act by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite these accolades, the band played generic three chord acoustic rock thrown together with some excellent saxophone playing by Matt Corey and high-tech voice box accompaniment. The set consisted of four original songs as well as a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” Lead singer Jake Blazer’s voice provided strong support and stage presence to songs that were lyrically weak and sloppily arranged. The challenge of getting a positive crowd response is much easier at an all-girls school, according to guitarist Eric Penrod. “[It’s] easier, because girls are generally more accepting,” he said. “You just have to get on stage for girls, with guys it’s like you have to prove yourself. But at the same time we want it to be about the music.” Blessid Union of Souls seemed to feed off of the laid-back energy supplied by 2 Skinny Dorks and brought the 600-person crowd to its feet in quiet anticipation. Kicking off the set with the fast-paced “She’s the One” and the hit “I Wanna Be There” off its second self-titled album (EMI, 1997), Blessid Union of Souls showed it still knows how to rock out with their old standby hits. The set slowed down with an appropriately named new song, “How Does it Feel Coming Down,” but then quickly picked up again with the single “That’s the Girl I’ve Been Telling You About” (Walking off the Buzz, 1999). Lead singer Eliot Sloan, dressed in a cape-like orange silk shirt and sewn-in tight pinstripe pants, twirled around onstage when not crooning into the microphone. He continued the set’s laid-back vibe with the forgettable “Oh Virginia” and the radio-friendly singles “Light in Your Eyes” and “Let Me Be the One,” which prompted many audience members to sway in unison while displaying their cell phone lights. A well-played piano cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” surprised many in the audience and added some energizing group sing-a-long to the set. Later in the set, the rest of the band had the opportunity to show off its musical skills via a five-minute jam session filled with funk drumbeats by Shaun Shaefer and Led Zeppelin-inspired guitar riffs by Bryan Billhimer and Pence. This long performance prompted many audience members to leave early. If they had stayed, they would have witnessed some awe-inspiring guitar playing that would lead anyone to pick up a guitar and try it out.The highlight of the night was the solo performance by Sloan of its first smash single, 1995’s “I Believe” (Home, EMI). This haunting and well-written love ballad brought some in the audience to tears while hugging their loved ones. At the end of the set, Blessid Union of Souls returned to a crowd favorite by playing “I Believe” punk, reggae and hard rock style in an extended version. This new twist revitalized the crowd’s energy just in time for the band’s 1999 smash hit “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me).”Despite not releasing any new material since this 1999 album, the band is not too concerned with losing a fan base. When questioned about those who criticize the band for being a past success, lead singer Sloan said, “You got to do what you got to do,” Sloan said. “If the songs are good they’ll hold up on their own, you can’t really depend upon what critics say about you.”As Blessid Union of Souls displayed Thursday, its songs are capable of holding up, even if it is past their prime.