All words: Andy Johnson — All photos: Kevin Hulse
Admit it. You clicked the link to read this review because you expect me to shit on Creed. What else would you expect? Look, I know Creed sucks. I’m not dumb. The thought that Creed is anything but a joke is scripture. They’re such an easy band to hate on that a reason why I wanted to see them live is to understand why this particular band generates such a visceral reaction. Conversely, I had to see what type of person would shell out $50 bucks in this economy to see them play.
I can conceive of three reasons why people hate Creed so much. The most esoteric reason is that Creed’s signing to Wind-Up Records caused them to drop The Wrens from their label. Chances are that you don’t even know who The Wrens are, so let’s move on to the next cause: their derivative, radio-friendly butt rock sounds like a watered-down Pearl Jam. The term critics use is “post-grunge.” From what I can recall, the prefix “post-“ loosely translates to “not-as-good-as.”
But there are a ton of terrible post-grunge bands. No one would question my sanity if I told them I was going check out Three Doors Down at the Warner Theatre. We all know the reason why people dislike Creed, and it ain’t ‘cause they prefer Alter Bridge.
Creed claims they are not a Christian Rock band. They say they’re a rock band that happens to include Christians. They’ve stressed this in countless interviews. They are technically correct, because have you ever listened to contemporary Christian Rock? Those guys have songs that make “My Sacrifice” sound subtle. So, yes, I concur that Creed is not a Christian Rock band because they do not literally sing about dropping to their knees in exaltation for the coming of the Lord. But to deny that earnest, evangelical Christianity is woven into band’s DNA would be preposterous.
I might as well be transparent: I’m not religious. I don’t go to church, I sin, I swear and I’m pretty sure if I were born in a different century, I’d either be excommunicated or stoned depending on what corner of the world I was in. But I’m no Reddit Athiest troll either. If devotion to a selected dogma tempers a wild personality and quells existential anxieties about the mysteries of the universe, you can pray to Zeus for all I care. Just don’t be a mondo douche about it. And when I think about Creed and especially greasy vocalist Scott Stapp on stage, dripping in sweat, hung in his dumb Jesus pose, something inside just does not sit right.
Chuck Klosterman said in his review of the band’s New York show that “Creed seems to take itself more seriously than its own fan base does.” This might be the key to unlocking why so many are quick to bash Creed. It’s not only because they are openly religious that rankles us heathens. It is the injection of unabashed earnestness into their lyrics, performances and branding that makes them so easy to mock. Sincerity is antagonistic with today’s era of hashtag irony and aloof cynicism that many of us subscribe to. It’s depressing that our culture has reached a point where earnest people are often viewed with suspicion and mockery.
New York Jet punt protector Tim Tebow is the perfect analog. Tebow is not a very good quarterback and Creed are not a very good band, but if it weren’t for their earnest posturing, I doubt they’d receive near-universal disrespect. Nevertheless, Tebow has his devout followers, and while Creed’s flock may have thinned in the past decade, some true believers still remain.
I was surprised with how empty the Warner Theatre was. At the apex of their career, Creed was the biggest selling rock act in the country. Two of their albums went six-times platinum and their “magnum opus” Human Clay sold a whopping 11 million copies in America. The only other hard rock albums to sell as many copies since 1990 are Metallica’s self-titled album, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten. To put this awesome figure into perspective, Americans have purchased roughly the same amount of copies of Human Clay since its release in 1999 as Americans have purchased Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band since its release in 1967. (Feel free to doubt Wikipedia.) And here they are, thirteen years and one “rebirth” later, unable to sell out a mid-sized venue in a major city along the east coast.
The crowd was exactly who you think would show up at a Creed concert: people who were really into mainstream rock ten years ago and then immediately stopped listening to popular music. Several Godsmack and Staind t-shirts disguised paunches. A surprising number of six-to-eight-year-old children were present. The Warner Theatre filled its chin-strap beard quota for the year.
Opening act Eve To Adam were the quintessential post-millennial “hard rock” act. Three-quarters of the group had long hair. They sang about rocking out. They did a “Rebel Yell” cover. They dedicated their final song to “to the wounded warriors who never let us down.” Everything, from the quasi-religious band name to the singer’s Stappian appearance made them seem like Creed: The Next Generation. If Eve To Adam were 10 years older, I would rank them above Shinedown but below Puddle of Mudd.
I was privileged to attend a performance of Human Clay in its entirety. The band—all dressed in black—took the stage at 9:15. Despite a decade of being one of the most maligned men in rock music (watch your throne, Billy Corgan), Stapp was in good spirits, looking fit physically and vocally sharp. They opened with “Are You Ready?” which could be confused with Soul Collective’s “Shine.” The powerful Scream 3-anthem “What If” was next. Stapp sang its title at least 61 times. Only a band of Creed’s prowess could transform a song titled “Beautiful” into a head-banger. Stapp introduced “Say I” in the Creediest (h/t to Klosterman for my new favorite adjective) way imaginable. He wanted to “paint a picture in a song that inspires us.”
It was no different from any other washed-up act out on the road, packaging nostalgia to aging fans unable or unwilling to manufacture unique memories. The band sounded great—these men are professionals after all. Guitarist Mark Tremonti has more hooks than the Candyman and you’ll hear no complaints from me regarding bassist Brian Marshall or drummer Scott Phillips. (Maybe I should give Alter Bridge a chance?) They sounded so tight that I was afraid that this would be an average night out. It’s no fun to write 2000 words on how much a 90’s band played their old songs well. However, it was sometime around “Faceless” that the night began to take a turn for the weird.
I must stress that my seats were amazing. Because it wasn’t sold-out, the promoter put me in Row K. I was sitting next some genuine Creed superfans. “Faceless” is one of Human Clay’s power ballads. One of the lyrics: “It’s funny how silence speaks sometimes when you’re alone / and remember that you feel.” Deep shit. But as their touring guitarist plucked away, instead of holding up a lighter, I noticed a womanin the second row curled her hands so that it formed a heart. If you’re familiar with Taylor Swift concerts (and who isn’t), you’re probably familiar with this hand gesture. Upon closer inspection I realized this woman had a plan. Her friend was trying to aim her iPhone so that she could take an Instagram so Scott Stapp was in the middle of the heart. Just a reminder: Facebook paid $1 billion for this service.
My mind was reeling, but then I smelt the faint, familiar waft of marijuana in the crowd as the band segued into “Never Die”. I don’t know your feelings on the drug war, but no one should be forced to listen to Creed while stoned. That’s a waste of good weed.
But then it came, the big one: “Well I just heard… the news today…” Every single line of “With Arms Wide Open” leaked from my subconscious, like Cthulu rising from his eternal slumber. At one point, a random woman snuck into the empty seat in front of mine. She waited until its super-chorus and slowly lifted her arms above her head. She started to wave, slowly, earnestly, reciting each word like gospel. As the song was ending, I looked down for a second to do some obnoxious livetweeting. Upon raising my head, she had vanished. I had no clue where she went. I’m not a religious man, but there is a genuine chance this woman was just raptured.
I’m going to write something I never expected to write: “Higher” is a tremendous song. Everyone was jacked, hooting, hollering as Stapp, in full Jesus pose, kicked into their biggest hit. Once again, the Taylor Swift Heart woman got her fingers busy. This time I was ready, capturing her gesture on video. One fellow near me, who looked like he came straight from The Hill, was so geeked by “Higher” that he turned away from the stage, raised both of his arms, closed his eyes, and bellowed to his fellow believers in the balcony, “I fucking love this band!” He began fist pumping. He pounded his feet. He threw up the metal horns. He began doing that thing when you shake your head back and force violently so you can feel your cheeks and lips wiggle. He gnawed his lady friend’s nape. As the song was winding down, he began playfully punching strangers in their stomach, unable to supress his ecstasy.
After that impressive display, the final four songs off Human Clay pale in comparison. They played a few more hits from the rest of their albums, including debut single “My Own Prison”. During “One” everyone in the audience dutifully raised their pointer finger. The band and the audience were having such a blast that prior to the encore, everyone sang Happy Birthday to the bassist prior to dipping into “One Last Breath.” Stapp was really perspiring at this point. He was giving it his all, despite the room being only half-full. You can mock the man for making a sex tape with Kid Rock or having the gumption to name his memoir Sinner’s Creed or for getting so fucked up at a concert that he was sued by his fans for sucking, but I’ll say this: Scott Stapp and Creed put on an entertaining, pleasurable live show.
As he was singing the final song of the evening, “My Sacrifice”, I noticed the Taylor Swift Heart woman was trying to catch Stapp’s eye. She was on the edge of the stage, desperate to get his attention. As he swooped over her part of the stage, she finally got her chance. As his left hand wavered over the outstretched fingertips of his still-adoring fans, my lingering memory of my first Creed show was watching a woman in her mid-30s lift herself from the crowd to discretely-but-earnestly rub Scott Stapp’s side pipe.
- Eve to Adam