CONCERT REVIEW: Summer Jam ’03 brings best in rock to Eau Claire for all-day concert event

Aaron Vehling

9:40 p.m. Already ten minutes late, the crowd continues to wait patiently for Summer Jam’s headliner. Already, the band’s banner has been released in front of the stage, prompting a continual cheer from the audience that would not die down.

Finally, 13 minutes after show time, smoke begins to fill the stage and the Rush song playing over the loudspeakers dies.

“… 3 Doors Down kept their sound crisp,
professional, and loud.”

The crowd breaks into a frenzy as shadowy figures take the stage and immediately jump into a familiar single while the smoke begins to billow into the clear night sky.

The band 3 Doors Down was just one of many rock acts gracing the Summer Jam stage this Saturday on the Country Jam grounds outside of Eau Claire.

In addition to the pop rock headliner, Seether and Trapt made an appearance, as well as cult mainstays Shinedown and Intercooler.

Local Eau Claire rockers Orestus opened the show with a brief set to a docile but large crowd. Fortunately for their fans, Orestus managed to more than make up for the lack of energy permeating from the large areas of people sitting back in their fold-up chairs, taking advantage of every second of playing time they were allotted.

Seemingly taking a hint from their opener, both Intercooler and Shinedown came out with a matching level of energy to make up for their audience’s continually flaccid reactions.

Thanks to an impressive sound system set-up and a fine-tuned live act, all three openers put on impressive performances and made sure the main acts had no room for error when they hit the stage.

First came Seether, hailing from South Africa and gaining in popularity thanks to their overplayed single “Fine Again” and much-acclaimed follow-ups “Driven Under” and “Gasoline.”

Front man Shaun Morgan and his band mates took the stage looking like true rock stars. As they jumped into “Gasoline,” Morgan let his long black hair drape over his face and refused to pull it back during the show, keeping in tune with the band’s dark and dreary persona.

With a now lively crowd bouncing to the heavy-but-enjoyable guitar riffs pounded out by Morgan and guitarist Pat Callahan, Seether kept their act tight throughout, taking only one brief aside to dedicate “Driven Under” to the late Dave Williams of Drowning Pool.

Despite a mild stage presence, Seether’s sound remained crisp and near perfect throughout. The only musical inconsistencies would have had to come from bassist Dale Stewart, whose rapid-fire bass lines fused with an unending passion for matching the front row’s energy.

Stewart, taking time during the choruses to bounce around with bass in hand, almost missed his back-up vocal cues as he struggled to slow himself down and return to the microphone in time to scream.

Seether could have ended their short set with their biggest single “Fine Again,” and left the stage with nary a complaint from the enthused audience.

Instead, perhaps knowing they needed a little something extra to keep their name fresh inside the head of the thousands in attendance who weren’t familiar with their music, Seether played one more song to drive their show home and guarantee the respect of even those who came solely for 3 Doors Down.

The song didn’t click with the audience at first, as Morgan and his band mates warmed up with a fresh intro. It wasn’t until he began the first verse that the crowd went into a frenzy, as the familiar dark lyrics to Nirvana’s “You Know You’re Right” sounded through the loudspeakers.

For a lesser band, such a bold cover could have meant suicide. But Seether refused to give even the slightest indication that it wasn’t Nirvana onstage, playing the song flawlessly as Morgan’s throaty voice matched Kurt Cobain’s perfectly, sending a shiver down the collective spine of the audience.

The show refused to slow down as Trapt took the stage next and ignited their rock-flavored sounds with an explosive amount of force to keep the audience on its feet throughout, even between songs, when singer Chris Brown took too much time to explain and introduce every song his band had to offer.

Despite a powerful performance, there was something different about Trapt, which took the stage in simple clothes that would have allowed them all to blend in easily with the college-fused crowd and never be noticed.

Their sound and stage antics matched the guise of a pop-rock outfit, which set them apart from their predecessors. Seeing Trapt for the first time, it almost felt as if the audiences were treated to two separate concerts: hard-rock acts Orestus, Shinedown and Intercooler opened for Seether, while pop-rockers Trapt opened for 3 Doors Down.

In the end, Trapt’s watered-down rock took second stage to their impressive stage presence as they jumped onstage and immediately opened with their newest single, “Still Frame,” tearing through their 40 minutes with sounds from their debut album.

In the end, Trapt left a bittersweet taste on the mouth: they merged vigor into their hits “Still Frame” and “Headstrong” like professionals, but even at the top of their game during “Headstrong,” Trapt still looked and sounded like their songs belonged on the pop station.

The surprising act of the night was reserved for 3 Doors Down, who came onstage surrounded by a haze of smoke so thick that their bodies weren’t even visible until the first chorus of their opener “Duck and Run.”

Singer Brad Arnold and his band mates kept the intensity high throughout the show, slowing down only for a few songs (most notably “Be Like That”), letting their music do the talking. Arnold’s intermissions were brief as he paused between songs only to make sure his audience of thousands was still doing OK, and always reassuring them that they were all his friends.

Even with all of their bouncing around and acrobatic antics onstage, 3 Doors Down kept their sound crisp, professional and loud. Arnold’s voice never faltered for a moment during the songs, which could have led many to wonder if he was lip-syncing had he not slipped in a few quick ad-libs and audience sing-alongs.

In all, 3 Doors Down did not disappoint even the most casual rock listener, making sure everyone in the audience went home happy no matter who they came to Summer Jam to see.

If next year’s Summer Jam manages to scrape together even half of the entertainment this year had to offer, the $30 admission price will still be worth every penny.

– Ken Brosky