I've got to hand it to Collective Soul.
When you've seen hundreds of concerts over the years, it's noteworthy when a band attempts things you haven't really seen before. It's even more impressive when it pulls them off with the aplomb that Collective Soul did Thursday night at the Sandy Amphitheater.
For example, how often do you see a band not only open up with two songs from an album that hasn't been released yet, but also close the main set with one? It takes serious cojones for a band to dedicate such prime setlist real estate to songs no one in the audience has ever heard before -- unless they've sought out YouTube clips from recent Collective Soul concerts.
Ed Roland, frontman for the Georgia-based rock band, alluded to the apparent chutzpah of such a move mid-set as he was introducing yet another new song. Noting the pair of fresh tunes that kicked off the show -- "This" and "Are You the Answer" -- Roland said he and his bandmates were so enamoured with the songs from the forthcoming record that they would love to do a lot more of them.
"We don't want to drop them all on you. You'd be like, 'Hey, we've never heard these songs before,' " Roland said with a laugh. "We did two at the beginning -- yeah, we have an ego, but we're not crazy!"
The good news for Collective Soul fans is that the new songs held up extremely well with the rest of the band's hit-laden catalog. Roland said the forthcoming record -- which is titled "See What You Started By Continuing" -- was originally scheduled to be released this summer in time for the band's current tour. However, the songs continue to evolve as the band road tests them, leading to a new target release date sometime in early 2015.
Collective Soul played 19 songs over the course of its just-shy-of-two-hours performance. That tally rises to 20 if you're inclined -- and I am -- to count the several-minute interlude in the encore sandwiched between two of the band's most recognizable hits where Roland partially wrote a new song right on the spot and urged the band to flesh it out with the audience's help.
Roland had strapped on an acoustic guitar in the closing moments of "Shine," the breakout hit that launched the band's debut album back in 1993, and was preparing to segue right into the show-closing "Run" when he took a seemingly spontaneous detour. Strumming some chords on the acoustic, Roland explained that he had just come up with that part and the beginnings of a song a couple nights ago.
"It's just a verse and a bridge," Roland said. "I was just messing around with it."
Looking out beyond the audience in that moment and seeing a full moon rising inspired him, Roland said, and he immediately wanted to try out some new ideas.
"This is how we did our second record," he explained. "We just made it up as we'd go along."
He started in on the song and chimed in between lyrics with instructions to the band and audience.
"E minor! ... Jam it out! ... Sing it with me! ... Let's do it (again) so we don't forget it!"
It was indeed a surreal moment to look around and see several thousand people standing and enthusiastically singing a song that was essentially coming together in that moment as if it had been a radio staple for decades.
"We're all family and friends here now," Roland said at the conclusion of the exercise. "We're not afraid to try something new in front of you."
For future reference, should it ever become a full endeavor, the chorus to the brand new song went like this: "I surrender now to you ... I give my heart, right here, right now, under the Utah moon."
Outside of the not-yet-released new material, the band filled its show with a bevy of hits and a few album gems in a well-rounded set. Early numbers like "Heavy," "Precious Declaration" and "December" revved the audience up for upbeat performances of "Gel" and "Better Now." An especially potent section of the show featured full-on rockers "Where the River Flows," "Why Pt. 2" and "Counting the Days" performed in a power-packed trio.
An engaging frontman, Roland is clearly the focal point of any Collective Soul performance and comes across as a genuine man of the people while giving off a laid-back, Southern hippie type of vibe.
Roland clearly loves chatting up the audience -- frequently ending sentences with an exclamation of "Man!" -- but it's important to note that his between-song banter has a casual, spontaneous feel as opposed to snakeskin oil shtick. He comes across more like he's sharing a running conversation with audience members as opposed to simply talking at them.
In addition to Roland, the rest of the band was firing on all cylinders. Original members include Dean Roland, Ed's brother, on rhythm guitar and Will Turpin on bass. Newcomers Johnny Rabb (drums) and Jesse Triplett (bass) round out the band.
In contrast to his brother, Dean Roland is a bit more understated live, but his rhythm guitar playing is a key element to the band's sound. Triplett, brand new to the band this year, introduced himself with several blistering solos, including a tasteful bluesy romp in the middle of new song "Confession." (Ed Roland, incidentally, used the extended mid-song jam to roam among the people, not just sticking to reserved-seating sections, but also taking his act to the cheap seats on the grass hill.)
Coming full circle, Collective Soul ended Thursday's show in unique fashion. With the audience fully engaged in singing the chorus to "Run," the band members all quit playing and stepped away from their instruments except for Ed Roland on his acoustic guitar. Everyone came to the front of the stage and bid farewell in a kind of Von Trapp Family-esque departure. Newbies Rabb and Triplett were the first to say so long, farewell, leaving the trio of originals to bask in the spotlight. Turpin and Dean Roland soon followed suit, leaving Ed Roland onstage alone.
Roland kept strumming guitar as the crowd reverently remained singing. After a few moments he, too, slowly left the stage -- yet he kept playing guitar, and the audience kept singing.
This continued for a long enough period that Roland probably could have walked to the tour bus and started driving away in an effort to beat post-concert traffic. Audience members remained fully engaged, however, singing along to the strains of the invisible acoustic guitar, most probably wondering just how and when this exercise would finally conclude.
Eventually, Roland changed up the acoustic pattern, his gentle strums signaling the impending finish. The crowd followed the cue perfectly and belted out the final line as the last notes wafted through the speakers.
It was an extremely cool ending to a show that merits the same description.