Howie Day walked onto the stage at the Electric Factory on Feb. 6, complete with straightedge duds and acoustic guitar, and did his thing. It was good. In fact, it was very good. But it didn’t feel like the real Howie Day.
Day made a small but significant splash in 2002 with the re-release of his first album, Australia; an album with beautiful melodies and emotional lyrics. There is beauty in simplicity and Day found it.
This translated into live shows where he was a one man band, strutting onto the stage with naught but a guitar and a number of samples and loops backing him up. It was a purist approach and it proved effective.
Now, however, with the fall release of his latest studio album, Stop All the World Now, Day has started down a road previously traveled by many others and, unfortunately, his live act has taken that same turn.
Instead of Day’s usual one man intimacy, the audience at the Electric Factroy was confronted with the typical grade-A vanilla rock four piece setup of lead and rhythm guitar, bass and drum set, a far cry from his solo act. Unfortunately, the Electric Factory is hardly the most appropriate venue for a musician like Howie Day.
His soft rhythmic strums and strong soothing voice are better suited to a small coffee shop with a microphone in front of him and the speaker 20 feet from the audience, as opposed to a large, generic standing room warehouse.
Was the result bad? Not by any stretch. The added instruments did not get in the way of Day’s voice. The band was tight and well rehearsed, capturing the spirit of his music. There’s a lot of emotion poured into every one of Day’s songs and it carried the performance, more than making up for his lack of stage presence.
Day’s music has the unique ability to follow the most standard pop chord progressions, yet still possess a quality all its own. Regardless of changes in the orchestration, his songs remained true to their nature.
But, just like meatloaf isn’t the same if mom doesn’t make it, it just didn’t feel like Howie Day.
Perhaps my disappointment lies in my lament over the increasingly compromised standards of music in our pop culture. How many times must we be introduced to an artist who distinguishes their music through originality and a fresh approach, only to be let down as recording producers grab hold and force them to bend to the industry’s standard.
The sight of Howie Day being backed by three faceless company call-ups screams “sell out” to me, barely audible over the complementing “ka-ching,” Howie Day is a hell of a songwriter and a great talent. Everybody else realized it too because, in the end, that may be what does him in.
Noah Potvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org