Following in the footsteps of its fellow post-grunge compatriots like Creed, Staind, and Nickelback, Shinedown came together in 2001 to keep the American hard rock flag flying high and proud. Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, their 2003 debut album Leave A Whisper also showed off their southern rock roots a bit with the hit songs “45,” and the Lynyrd Skynyrd cover “Simple Man,” which would eventually elevate the album to platinum sales status. They followed with Us and Them in 2005, and The Sound Of Madness in 2008, which have sold over 8 million albums combined.
Somewhere In The Stratosphere is the latest live release from Shinedown, and it comes in a 2CD/2DVD set that can be picked up for the reasonable price of about $20. The package captures live sets from its Carnival of Madness (electric) and Anything and Everything (acoustic) tours. The acoustic set is the longest and better of the two, with a running time of about 118 minutes, and the electric set covers about 72 minutes. The CD and DVD audio sounds pretty much the same, other than the fact that they edited out all of the between-song storytelling on the acoustic CD.
The first album I bought from Shinedown was their sophomore release Us And Them when it first came out in 2005, and I thought it was one of the best melodic, hard rock albums of the year. Every song has a completely different vibe and all but a couple of the album’s 13 songs are exceptional. On the strength of that album, I picked up their debut album, Leave A Whisper, and although it has several outstanding moments, I didn’t find it to be nearly as strong as Us And Them.
Shinedown’s follow-up to Us And Them took nearly three years to make, and I was quite eager for its release after having their previous album in regular rotation in my car stereo. But the album really fell flat for me after the first few listens. The songs were either relentlessly heavy like the opening track and first single, “Devour,” or one of many radio-friendly power ballads that dominate the album. The Sound Of Madness has since grown on me somewhat, so I was looking forward to seeing and hearing this new live release from the masters of radio-friendly rock.
Somewhere In The Stratosphere: Madness Live from Washington State (Electric) is the name of the electric concert featured on this DVD, and it captures the band’s August 27, 2010 show at the Toyota Center, in Kennewick, WA. The video starts off showing the band preparing to hit the stage as the intro music, “Scary Fairy,” and darkened arena, signal the start of the show. The front of the stage was covered by a large curtain and spotlights occasionally threw shadows of the band members behind the curtain, creating an element of frenzied anticipation for the psyched up crowd. Just as the second verse of the opening track, “Sound Of Madness” kicks in, the curtain drops and we are off to the races. I’ve always thought that that was the coolest way to open a rock concert, ever since the first time I saw Aerosmith do it back in the ’80s.
“Devour” keeps the energy level high, to where even the much more melodic “I Dare You” did not even deter the mosh pit one bit. After another one of their heaviest tracks, “Cyanide Sweet Tooth Suicide,” they eventually start breaking out some of their hit singles like “If You Only Knew,” “The Crow & The Butterfly,” and “Save Me,” on the way to completing their 16-song set. The encore began with an acoustic performance of “Simple Man,” before closing with, first, the song that put them on the map, “Fly From The Inside,” from their debut album, and then “Second Chance,” their biggest hit off The Sound Of Madness.
I had watched the acoustic set first, so Madness Live from Washington State was a bit of a disappointment after seeing that killer performance. Much of it was due to the way the thing was filmed, which gave it more of a music video feel than a live concert performance. There were plenty of special effects thrown in for good measure too, including waaaay too many slow motion shots, which are the last thing I want to see when watching a concert video. I can’t exactly confirm it, but there also seemed to be some vocal overdubs going on too, such as during “If You Only Knew,” and “I Dare You,” which sounded more pre-recorded than live. I think Brent Smith is an excellent rock vocalist, as the acoustic show certainly attests, but there were plenty of sections were they avoided showing him sing up close during some of those questionable parts.
Shinedown’s studio albums are chock full of multilayered guitars, and the occasional keyboards and orchestration, so I was surprised to see that they don’t take at least a rhythm guitarist, and possibly even a keyboardist, on tour with them so that they don’t have to rely on backing tracks for so many of the songs. The orchestration parts were obvious enough, but so was hearing massive power chords playing throughout Zach Meyers’ guitar solos. This was not the case with the acoustic tour, where they had three additional musicians on stage to fill out the sound, and it sounded marvelous. I’d much prefer to see a band take an extra musician or two on tour with it to be able to reproduce the songs live.
Although most of Shinedown’s music is tailor made to be acoustically re-arranged, the Anything And Everything acoustic set still exceeded my expectations. The performance was very much in the style of a VH1 Storytellers show, in that Brent Smith did a ton of talking in between every song, often describing very personal details that led to the development of each song. He could hit the circuit tomorrow as a motivational speaker in the style of Tony Robbins, as his speaking style made me feel like I was at an Unleash the Power Within self-help seminar in between songs.
The 16-song setlist was similar to the electric set except that they replaced a few of the heavier tracks with more acoustic-friendly songs like “Shed Some Light,” and “Call Me,” and the heavier tunes they did play like “Heroes,” and “Sound Of Madness” worked well in their new arrangements. Shinedown probably should have passed on “Devour” though; it just didn’t work acoustically. The Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” sounded pretty cool in these guys’ hands, while “With A Little Help From My Friends” was given the Joe Cocker treatment, with Brent Smith doing a pretty good imitation, and American singer-songwriter, Will Hoge, joining him on lead vocals. Brent Smith’s vocals have never sounded better than they did at this acoustic show.
The production quality of the DVDs were merely adequate, with only a Dolby Stereo audio mix provided and a decent looking widescreen picture. The camera work for the electric concert was pretty atrocious, as it constantly changed shots every split second and showed too many shots of the crowd. The slow motion shots and other video effects were also a distraction. The acoustic show was shot much better, and the cameras captured the intimacy of the performance well. There were no special features included on either DVD.
Somewhere In The Stratosphere should not disappoint most Shinedown fans and it may even win over some new fans with their excellent acoustic performance. And it’s a hell of a bargain too.
Madness Live from
Washington State (Electric)
01. Intro (Scary Fairy)
02. Sound of Madness
04. I Dare You
05. Cyanide Sweet Tooth Suicide
06. If You Only Knew
07. Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)
09. Burning Bright
11. The Crow & the Butterfly
12. Her Name Is Alice
13. Save Me
14. Left Out
15. Simple Man
16. Fly from the Inside
17. Second Chance
Anything And Everything
Live From Kansas City (Acoustic)
02. Save Me
03. If You Only Knew
04. Sound of Madness
05. Shed Some Light
07. I Dare You
08. Times Like These
09. The Crow & the Butterfly
10. Burning Bright
12. Call Me
13. Fly from the Inside
14. With a Little Help from My Friends
15. Simple Man
16. Second Chance
Performance – 7/10
Production – 7/10