I had the chance to see Blue October in concert last night, from which my ears are literally still ringing. (It’s okay—Google informs me that tinnitus after a rock concert may last for several days before I need to actually get worried.)
In a few words, it was fantastic. They played most of my favorites—I didn’t stop grinning through “Sway,” “King,” and “Home”—and I screamed myself hoarse singing along with crowd pleasers like “I Hope Your Happy,” “I Want It,” and “Calling You.” I heard a few songs I didn’t know; apparently I need to catch up on their 2009 album, Approaching Normal. And as always happens happily in concert, they played a few songs that I don’t go out of my way to listen to, but hearing them live gave me a new appreciation for them (particularly “Debris” and “Fear”). Lead singer Justin Furstenfeld also did a short interlude/comedy sketch about his kids waking him up early on a Saturday as an introduction to “Home,” which had the audience laughing and cheering for him that, as he said, after ten years of terrible pain, he can now say thank you every day for his life.
In the days leading up to the concert, I found myself explaining to friends and coworkers who Blue October is (“They’re an emo rock band from the aughts”), and waiting in line to get into the concert, I felt a little out of place. I texted my sister: “I must be in the right line, because someone’s playing Blue October on their phone, but I didn’t get the memo to wear lots of black.” She quipped back that she should’ve helped me with my eyeliner before I went. And the venue, The Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan, was suitably branded with skulls inside and out, and chain-link fencing separated audience members from backstage.
I have my romantic/gothic sensibilities to be sure, but waiting for the show, I asked myself why I’m such a Blue October fan. By the end of the concert, the answer was obvious. In their music and lyrics, Blue October lean into emotional honesty, and they use the full color palette. I know the pain behind “Hate Me” is as real as the beaming smile on Justin’s face as he shouted his wife’s name over and over during “How to Dance in Time.” They played with openness and invited their audience into their lives and experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Many of my favorite books and movies do the same thing, I’ve noticed. Part of Harry Potter’s global appeal, I would argue, is that J. K. Rowling strikes a delicate balance between warmth and humor, and struggle and seriousness. The bantering friendships and romantic misadventures of Half-Blood Prince aren’t pitted against but hang together with the troubling details of Voldemort’s past and the tragedy of Dumbledore’s death. Dorothy Sayers’s Harriet Vane quartet manages a similar balance between the playfulness of Harriet and Peter Wimsey’s relationship and the disturbing murders they solve.
If I’m not careful, my own books tend toward the dark and melancholic (one might even say gothic). But I’m trying more and more to build emotionally well-rounded stories, and taking cues from Blue October wouldn’t be a bad place to start.