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Candlebox offers fresh mix of blues and heavy metal

Nov. 9.

By Eric Oliver
Staff Reporter

My first introduction to the music of Candlebox came this summer, around early August. I had just gotten over a pretty bad break-up and was feeling pretty blue. Then, over the radio, I heard the song "Change," the first single released by Candlebox, and it seemed to be singing to me.

The song starts off with a bluesy feel, with singer Kevin Martin in a mellow groove, saying exactly what I wanted to say: "So much for your common complications/so much for your constant desperation for what's to come." After he has built up the emotions and frustrations of the song, he lets loose, belting out a primal scream accompanied by grinding chords that's as good a venting of frustration as I've heard in a long time. Then the song suddenly changes back and the emotions build up again. At just the right time, Martin lets loose again and you can't help but scream along with him.

I decided to buy the CD just for that song, and I got a lot more than I bargained for. Their debut, Candlebox, released earlier this year, is a collection of heavy blues songs, a blues base with a combination of Seattle grunge, and California heavy metal influence. The sound is fresh and energetic, and Martin's vocals show a wide range, from low blues lyrics to growling screams.

One of the highlights is "Rain," a song basically divided into two parts, the first pure blues and the second a chord-swiping funky rap that builds up to a raw, thrashing finale. The rest of the album is split into songs similar to the first half of "Rain," such as "Blossom" and the emotional "He Calls Home," and songs similar to the second half of "Rain," such as "You" (which is currently getting a lot of air time, if you listen to the right station) and "Mother's Dream."

On Nov. 9, nine days after headlining the WAAF Halloween bash, Candlebox played with Living Colour to a packed house at Avalon. Candlebox came on first and put on a great show to an enthusiastic crowd. On stage, Candlebox comes across as a darker version of Pearl Jam, with only lead singer Martin ever interacting with the audience. They opened with "Arrow," and immediately the crowd surfing began, with a couple of brave souls offering their bodies to the air to be thrown around like beach balls.

The band was cool and collected, and seemed to be having a good time. One event during the show which blew me away was during the song "No Sense," when lead guitarist Peter Klett seemed to snap a string right in the middle. He calmly lifted the strap over his head and turned and handed the guitar to a roadie, who gave him a new one. Then he slowly strapped it on, took one step forward, and immediately launched into a blazing solo right on cue.

Meanwhile, Martin's stage presence was much like his singing style. During the mellow vocals he stood nearly still, occasionally pausing and looking out into the crowd, and during the screams he immediately shifted gears, raising his head upward and pumping his arms, releasing all of his energy. He even joined the crowd fun once, as "Mother's Dream" began with a slow build-up of Klett and bassist Bardi Martin while Kevin stood facing the back of the stage. When the build up quickly hit thrashing level, Kevin turned and ran three steps and vaulted head first into the crowd.

Off-stage, Kevin Martin is extremely personable, showing the excitement of a kid enjoying life in the rock scene without the vanity that accompanies many new talented singers. I learned from drummer Scott Mercado that all members of this Northwestern band are originally from that area except Kevin, who hails from San Antonio, Texas.

"He moved up during high school," explained Mercado, who at 29 is the elder statesman of the band. "We've been together as a band about two years," he said.

And what are their plans when they leave Boston? "We're heading back across the country with Living Colour and we should be home around Christmas," Mercado said. "Then we're either going to head over to Europe or tour with Rush." Look for them to be back in the area in January (something Kevin hinted to us) and try and pick up the CD in the meantime.