Blue October @ o2 Institute, 22nd February 2019

You’d be forgiven for letting Texan alt-rock band Blue October slide under your radar here in the UK, despite the band attaining platinum sales back in their home country over a career spanning two decades. On this side of the pond the band haven’t quite matched that success, but have a fervent cult following who have helped to fill up the Institute’s main hall tonight, and there’s a big air of anticipation before the band take to the stage.

Led by confident frontman Justin Furstenfeld, the band begin their set with ‘Sway’, easing in with an expansive indie-rock sound reminiscent of U2 with soft electronic embellishments and added violin from multi-instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye. Ryan spends much of the set swapping between violin, keyboards and guitar, often within the same song and gives an extra crunch to ‘Say It’ to show the band’s more guitar-heavy side. “I love rock ‘n’ roll!” shouts Justin into the crowd, keen to impress that they haven’t entirely ditched their alternative rock influences as their sound has gone towards a more commercial pop direction on their last couple of releases, seen on the anthemic ‘Home’ and slick sound of ‘King’ which has brought them comparisons to other guitar-based but undeniably radio-friendly pop artists such as Imagine Dragons and Maroon 5.

Justin is open about his previous battles with depression and addiction, but he’s clearly in a much better place right now and the evolution of his lyrics demonstrates his journey, clearly and honestly in a way that the crowd can easily relate to. So although older songs like ‘Into The Ocean’ appear bleak even to himself (“what was I thinking? There’s sharks in there!”), it gives context when he explains ‘I’ll Do Me, You Do You’ as about the ending of his toxic relationship before the warm-sounding ‘Home’ shows where he’s at currently with a heart-on-sleeve account of his happy family life and the sound of the music shifts accordingly. Justin introduces ‘Fear’ with an earnest (and occasionally funny) monologue about motivation and positivity, and that’s the main takeaway from Blue October’s performance on this tour – their new album’s titled ‘I Hope You’re Happy’ and they genuinely seem to mean it.

The band conclude the main part of their set with a bang as the bombastic ‘Daylight’ sees Justin in full rock frontman mode, throwing water into the front few rows before exercising his impressive Peter Gabriel-esque vocals on ‘Coal Makes Diamonds’. Bassist Matt Novesky takes a prominent role on finale ‘Leave It In The Dressing Room (Shake It Up)’ which is easily the heaviest moment of the set and ends in a squeal of feedback and effects, before there’s a huge cheer for an encore from the audience. Kicking off a quick-fire five further songs, Justin and Ryan are the first to return with an acoustic rendition of their biggest stateside hit ‘Hate Me’ to a mass sing-along before ‘The Worry List’ and ‘How To Dance In Time’ provide a mellow moment, and after picking the pace back up with ‘I Want To Come Back Home’, the band thank their UK fans for supporting them over the years before ‘I Hope You’re Happy’ ends the set on a triumphant and uplifting note, proving it’s never too late to get invested in a band of Blue October’s quality.

Tonight’s support are Canterbury’s CoCo & The Butterfields, a vibrant indie-pop outfit led by dual vocalists Tom and Dulcima. Recalling the folky style of The Lumineers along with some 80’s pop sensibilities, songs like ‘Puppets’ are undeniably catchy tracks that immediately grab attention, whilst ‘Robots’ and ‘Monsters’ highlight the vocal talents within the band. “Who’s ready for some bad-ass banjo?” asks Tom, introducing “Handsome Rob” with an instrument that lights up and changes colour. Unfortunately Rob’s not feeling too well and has to rush offstage to be sick during the final song, but the rest of the band carry on admirably and finish their set with smiles on their faces, encouraging people to come and see them on their own upcoming tour.

Reviewer: Ian Paget

Photographer: Ian Dunn

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