Augustana | 01.26.07

I know this band has talent and potential, but on this night, they let me down. The only thing that gave me comfort was that Vega4 is now on my radar.


at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, St. Louis

All the way from Ireland, Vega4 made their St. Louis debut supporting regional faves Augustana. Well, in all fairness, the band could be a advertisement for Benetton seeing, how two members are from Ireland, one is from New Zealand, and the other is from Canada. I suppose the mixture of four different cultures—lead singer Johnny McDaid is from Northern Ireland and bassist Gavin Fox from Southern Ireland—works well for the band, as their sound is passionate, forceful, and charming all at the same time.

McDaid's vocals were crisp and clear on the band's first song, "Tearing Me Apart." Despite McDaid chastising his sound guy, his vocals sounded impressive to me as I set up camp at the back of the Duck Room. The thing that got me excited about this band is how they "build" songs. They don't start off with a big open chord or screaming lyrics, but rather begin softly and gain speed as the songs progress. It's almost as if the song starts off at ground zero, climbs a hill, plateaus, climbs another hill, then plateaus again, culminating in a big wall of sound at the end.

The only instance that made me cringe was when McDaid had the packed audience split into two sections. I was hoping he was going to incite them to run into one another—á la Braveheart style—but all he did was incite a cheer off where one half tried to out-scream the other side. Lame as it was, McDaid and Fox did entertain the crowd with a bit of drama, seeing how people from Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland are still just a wee bit bitter toward one another.

Theatrics behind them, Vega4 got back to the music, ticking off a few more tracks from their 2006 album You and Others. Songs like "You" and "You and Me" filled the hall with some of the most honest lyrics and enjoyable music I have head in some time. Capping off their short set with the audience favorite "Life Is Beautiful," Vega4 did exactly what I thought they should have done: left the crowd wanting, almost begging for more. Their set was fun, full of great energy, and even better music. Vega4 could be my new favorite band for 2007.

After Vega4 set the entertainment bar high, Augustana came out and delivered one of the most boring sets I have ever seen. Having named their CD, All the Stars and Boulevards as my favorite 2005 disc and reviewing their live show once before, I know what these guys are capable of; on this night, though, I left the show disappointed. Most of the band appeared tired, save for the group's bass player who always seems to have an inexhaustible source of energy.

The thing that disappointed me the most was Dan Layus' vocals. The singer seemed to run out of gas after the second song. I think the mix was off, further drowning out the vocals, but the singer was basically whispering his lyrics from the beginning. It was almost too harsh to watch. I wanted to leave, but I was caught in that kind of car-crash stare—I wanted to see how bad it would get. But that's just the thing; it didn't get any worse, but neither did it didn't get any better. Their entire set was just plain boring.

Not to add insult to injury, but the band is in need of a stylist ASAP; they looked as tired as they sounded. Where Vega4 sounded amazing and looked sharp, Augustana looked as if they all needed to be washed, ironed, and prescribed five months' rest. Knowing the band has a lengthy tour itinerary ahead of them, it was all I could do not to walk up on stage, force an intervention, and make them take a mandatory vacation—somewhere tropical, perhaps.

There was one glimmer of hope toward the end of the set when the band launched into their big hit, "Boston," in which they finally got a small burst of energy, but it was too little too late. One good song does not a make for a groovy concert. Perhaps I should just chalk this up to them having an off night, but as I left Blueberry Hill, the bitter cold made my mood even more bitter. I was mad and I wanted to scream. I know this band has talent and potential, but on this night, they let me down. The only thing that gave me comfort was that Vega4 is now on my radar. Yay. | Jim Campbell

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