September 17, 2011
SAYREVILLE, NJ—If there was ever a band that exorcised its past through their lyrics, members and music, it’s Fuel. Born from the humble beginnings of Small The Joy back in 1989, Fuel has climbed rock and roll’s thorny trestle to the very top of the heap. Since they burst onto the scene with their 1998 full-length debut, Sunburn, Fuel has been a staple on rock radio, independent of the ebb and flow of ephemeral musical trends. After the success of “Shimmer,” Fuel released 2000’s Something Like Human, which featured the hit singles “Innocent” and “Hemorrhage (In My Hands),” and achieved double platinum status. After three years filled with touring, Fuel released 2003’s Natural Selection, which featured the hit “Falls On Me.” The steady stream of hit songs and sold-out tours was interrupted in 2004 when the band and singer Brett Scallions decided to amicably part ways.
Since that monumental hiccup, Fuel has ridden the roller coaster of triumph and disappointment that finally ended with the departure of founding guitarist Carl Bell last year. Bell stated on the band’s website, “There’s been a lot of turmoil within the band over the past few years and a lot of that is reflected in these songs. When change happens it brings out the best and the worst in people, and I’d like to think that for us it was mostly the best.” Whatever the case might be, the band I saw at Starland Ballroom was a completely different animal than that of the past.
Featuring the much anticipated return of original singer Brett Scallions, Fuel is now supported by an entirely new band of players. Guitarist Andy Andersson, bassist Brad Stewart (formerly of Shinedown) and drummer Ken Schalk (Candiria) accompanied Scallions on the third of a 22-date tour that ends up back at the House Of Blues in Atlantic City on Oct. 15.
The Starland crowd was decidedly older, looking more like a high school reunion from 1989 than a rowdy bunch of Fuelies. All the openers were concise and talented players that came fairly close to the main event’s style. After a short wait and a rousing intro, consisting of Family Guy’s “Bag Of Weed” song, Fuel seized the stage like a shark, wasting little time and drama as they snuck up and clobbered the crowd over the head with their over-driven brand of power chord rock.
Right off the bat, if you didn’t know it was a new band you wouldn’t have missed a thing. The thundering blitzkrieg of “Last Time,” the first song off of 2000’s Something Like Human, filled the room with electricity.
Fuel kept the power going with classic scorchers such as “Jesus Or A Gun,” a song that showed Scallions in great, early career form and showcased the six-string talents of newcomer Andy Andersson quite well. The one thing I noticed right away is that these guys need live backing vocals on most of these songs. Scallions has, according to former bandmates, had problems with his voice in the past. Leaving him to carry all the weight in the middle bridge of a song like “Gun,” is like wasting all of the punches of a prize fighter in the second round. It’s a risky move.
Between campy pick-tossing and audience banter, Fuel kicked out “Song For You,” which came out of the junkyard with all the snarl and bite of the original Carl Bell-penned gem off of Sunburn. Andersson and Scallions handle monster guitar riffs like nobody’s business and the heavy-duty rhythm section of Brad Stuart and Ken Schalk was beyond god-like.
Other notable moments were Fuel’s performance of “Sunburn,” a song that stands on its own nearly 14 years later. Featuring the trademarked tremolo guitar swatches from Andersson and the slick, powerful drum work of Schalk, Scallions and his new crew seemed to satisfy even the staunchest of die-hard Fuelies. The brand new tune, “I Can See The Sun,” worked to the band’s sound advantage well, staying within their hard rock parameters while introducing the Bad Company guitar inspiration of Andersson and his obvious influence on the band. Carl Bell’s “Bad Day,” a song that dates back to before Shimmer, came through strong. A definite crowd-pleaser, the band turned “Bad Day” into a massive, crowd sing-along. In-key and relaxed, Scallions led the room like some hard rock Svengali as he brought this old school hit back to life.
From the very first notes of “Shimmer,” the room went nuts. “Shimmer” is the band’s biggest hit off Sunburn. The band held it close to the vest, pulling it out late in the set and giving the crowd exactly what they came for. Clean, Gibson ES-335 guitar attacks in the verses and choruses seemed a bit rushed until the rhythm section settled it down. Big, rowdy sound and that familiar vocal performance by Scallions made this song a high point of the show.
Up next was another mega hit off Sunburn: “Bittersweet.” This big, blaring stomper was tough for Scallion to rise to, as he seemed to strain his vocal cords to the breaking point. Dirty, full-bore guitars ripped through heavy backbeats and bass, making way for Scallions’s raw snarl that finally got back on track and put this great song over the top. His comments about fighting a throat issue all day did little to ease my feeling that they might just need to rearrange the set list to keep pace with his style in the future.
The band went through several other songs including the hardcore raunchiness of “Ozone,” and another arabesque, Zeppelin instrumental before they ended with the timeless “Hemorrhage.” One of the band’s most poignant and melancholy songs off Something Like Human, “Hemorrhage” had Scallions’ voice rallying and staying sharp right into the finale. This is the ultimate power-chord ballad and Fuel didn’t even come close to running out of gas here. They didn’t let the fans down and I’m anxious to see where they go in this next completely different phase of the group’s dynamic history.
Kudos goes out to Park Lane, the band that had the duty of going on right before Fuel. Professional, tight and catchy, Park Lane’s set was by far the best of the opening acts. Charging the crowd is this band’s destiny, and they do it well. This is a group that immediately makes you stop and take notice. With the addition of singer Carley Coma, Park Lane is deep in the process of getting national attention.
Coma made quite a name for himself in the late ’90s and early 2000s by singing for Candiria, a groundbreaking neo-jazz-metal fusion band and one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 10 Best Metal Bands.
The band’s latest disc, titled Letters From The Fire, cycles through a range of mood and emotions, from raucous rockers to more refined, alt-hard-rock gems. “The Edge” kicks off the album and centers on a sensitive, serious and universally relatable topic of wanting a way out. This was a great job from a band that’s on the proverbial rise. Park Lane is Carley Coma (vocals), Grayson Hurd (guitar), Michael Keller (guitar), Cameron Stucky (drums), and Clayton Wages (bass).
For more information on Fuel, go to fuelrocks.com. For more information on Park Lane, go to parklaneband.com.