As if they planned their performance down to even the weather, Trans-Siberian Orchestra arrived in Grand Rapids as soft blankets of snow covered the city sidewalks and trees lining the way to Van Andel Arena.
TSO has entered its 21st consecutive year of touring and cornered the Christmas Metal market. Perhaps such a niche was once so small that it seems almost reasonable that such an achievement would appear unimpressive. However, two decades and over 17 million tickets later, TSO proves that carving out their own space in the saturated Christmas scene is as much a result of finding a unique presentation to grab hold as it is their quest to present a truly remarkable show in its own right.
Part rock opera and part classic metal concert, TSO provides a show that appeals to all ages and manages to even engage audiences one might not expect to entertain the idea of attending a metal spectacle of screaming guitars, howling vocals and a laser-light show that is second to none.
The audience in attendance runs the gamut from 5 to 85 and everything in between. You might even believe you are arriving for a classical ballet production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker with gentle acoustic guitar, piano and Christmas bells laying the soundtrack for packed rows filing to their seats.
You might believe that notion correct as a narrator arrives on stage to set the story outlining the first half of the show and laying the bedrock of a few unique tunes brought to the stage this year. A man in a long overcoat and scarf approaches the microphone with a deep barreling voice made even silkier by the gentle neon glow lighting his performance as the stage transforms into the set of “The Old City Bar.”
What follows is a show that manages to pull off the improbable: a two and a half hour rock show without an opening act, intermission or pause that isn’t planned or efficient in creating an experience as much as a concert.
The show ranges stylistically between traditional Christmas music, Beethoven’s Requiem, arena ballads and more brought alive with dueling guitars, shredding violin and incredible vocal talent that echos stylistic characteristics of 80’s metal bands such as Queensryche and the Scorpions. The show manages to provide auditory and visual breaks with soft acoustic ballads lit only by a spotlight and an arena full of camera flashlights swaying to the music.
These breaks are worked in so seamlessly that the show is bereft of a single moment that quantifies “a good time to slip out” for concessions or a bathroom break. The shows is worth seeing from start to finish.
Two and a half hours later when TSO begins their final medley, Wish Liszt/Requiem/Sarajevo Finale, the audience is snapped out of the trance that managed to move them with such pace that the time has quite literally passed in an instant. The finale did not disappoint as the presentation reaches new peaks and shows TSO at its absolute best with lights beaming, fire shooting and music rocking at full force until the climactic end.
As the band prepared to take their final bow, they brought a young boy up on stage and presented him with one of their guitars from the performance as the boy held the guitar high above his head the band took a bow, the lights came on and the crowds of the most diverse metal audience you could expect funneled out of Van Andel Arena.
Christmas season is officially kicked off in West Michigan.
The Search can be summed up by this one thought: What does it mean if you achieve all you’ve ever wanted and its not that great? NF’s most recent album just closed its first week at #1 in the US top 200, beating out Chance the Rapper’s effort by a whopping 20,000 albums. NF also earned the #1 spot on the Billboard 100 Artist chart, topping megastars, Billie Eillish (2), Ed Sheeran (3), Post Malone (6), Shawn Mendes (8) and Drake (10) to highlight a few.
The Search begins with its title track in such silence and subtle ethereal ambiance that you are sure to check your volume at least a few times. Plucked strings come in abruptly at 36 seconds like something out of a Hitchcock film and the album enters a non-stop tour de force that delivers several clear hits and more than a few tracks that are sure to have longtime fans reminiscing about their first introductions to the rapper known as NF.
NF, an acronym for Nate Feuerstein, continues his introspective cinematic style in The Search that has brought him fans from across the hip-hop spectrum and beyond in his three previous major studio albums, even directly referencing themes and lyrics from those outings. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Feuerstein’s style has been the annunciation he is able to deliver while not sacrificing chopping speed and vocal talent that doesn’t rely on autotune to make it palatable. These skills have married perfectly with lyrics that deliver far more than the standard hip hop fare, offering meaningful tracks dealing with the loss of loved ones, self-improvement, depression, self-doubt, the existential crisis of overnight fame, and handling relationships in light of the aforementioned topics.
Furthermore, we analyzed tracks from The Search and found that the album contains an incredible 1,750 unique words and a whopping 1,192 usages of words longer than seven letters, making it an album that is not just impressive musically, but also as a technical & lyrical achievement.
Making this effort even more impressive, Feuerstein breaks away from the mainstream of modern hip-hop artists whose albums are rife with features, guests, additional writers, etc. This makes the album’s thematic and technical weight an even bigger achievement, but also stands as a testament to the effort Feuerstein has gone in building up his brand.
It is almost unthinkable that a modern artist, especially in the hip-hop category, could gain such traction without the typical press tours, guest features and other means of boosting an album’s profile. Furthermore, it displays the dedication and devotion of his fanbase in purchasing his album when free streaming services, YouTube and other avenues exist to enjoy the music without opening your wallet. It speaks to the connection that fans have with NF’s music and message.
This album, like those before it, does not shy away from addressing real issue and ends up being about the furthest thing you could imagine from your garden-variety hip-hop album. Most obviously, he deals with the changes associated with fame and wealth following his smash success with his previous album, Perception, and its single, “Let You Down.” He addresses those feelings directly in the song, “My Stress.” Feuerstein admits he is just waiting for the call saying the album isn’t selling and notes the changing attitudes of people in his life now that he is internationally famous.
In the end, the trope of an artist being burdened by the thing they worked so hard to achieve and growing jaded with the industry as well as having relationships infected by his fame are all too true. The pressure to continually deliver something bigger and better that lives up to or even exceeds the hype is a tiresome game to play and can often lead to artists futilely attempting to write hits as opposed to speaking through music, often leaving them with formulaic tracks that may reach temporary success, but eventually foster their own irrelevance.
Feuerstein is able to tow the line between writing songs that are sure to be massive successes without sacrificing the tone and tenor of his artistic voice. Overcoming the pressure that many artists feel once they hit the top has only been exacerbated in the time since his previous album by his admitted self-critical and obsessive character traits. While those elements of his personality put him in league with most great artists, he has not been immune from their effect on areas of his life outside musical production.
While this theme of an artist struggling with the pressure and changes fame often brings are not unique to Feuerstein, what is unique is that these themes are not dealt with haphazardly, surrounded by vacuous pop songs, or as a covert flex that comes off less as an admission of weakness and more of a way of fishing for additional compliments.
Feuerstein has offered fans a deep dive into his own mental and spiritual state across his discography and thus, offers something unique in our ability to see the full scope of an artist’s transition from obscurity into fame. Listeners are thus not abruptly thrown into a serious discussion of the cost of fame and the price paid to achieve that success, because the conversation was started several albums ago. That makes this feel far different than the typical shallow treatment these subjects often receive. Outside observers can view the entire evolution of his career and personal trials across his albums.
However, It appears as though Feuerstein is turning a corner. It is a subject he has discussed in prior albums, wondering if moving beyond the issues that have plagued him in the past will essentially undermine the brand he has built through Real Music. It is clear that he has treated that personal transition with great care and this album seems to be a the start of a sea change in reframing his own mental state, with much of the album handling many of the internal dialogues we have been treated to in the past before introducing a change in perspective in the sixth song, “Time.”
It is clear that Feuerstein is dedicated to breaking out of the cycle that has haunted him, echoing a familiar attitude we all have in our journeys in self-improvement. We all just need time. This song is also sure to be a massive hit with a catchy hook, a beat made for cruising with the windows down and a relatable message.
This is not to say that the album doesn’t have some absolute bangers. “No Excuses” and “Returns” are just a couple tracks that are tailor-made for your workout playlist. However, even in these moments, Feuerstein delivers more than a heavy beat and aggressive delivery, managing to forward the story while offering fans the hype beast tracks that are sure to satisfy listeners’ desire for the hard hitting songs that have turned heads in the hip-hop community for years.
Feuerstein has been cleaning out his “house,” a metaphor for his internal sense of self and mental state, and seems ready to release the “black balloons” he has carried with him since long before he was a #1 artist and fans around the world knew the artist known as NF. The Search is a must buy for fans of hip-hop and offers several tracks that will appeal to those that aren’t. It is available for purchase now on iTunes and other participating retailers.
Downtown Grand Rapids was hopping with cowboy boots and laughter the night of August 3rd, as fans started to file into 20 Monroe Live. Billy Currington is an award winning country music performer that attracts all ages to his events. As expected, Currington stole a piece of our hearts.
The night started with a new artist on the country scene, Madison Kozak. Her first EP was just released, as she signed with Big Loud Publishing’s record label. Although fans may not have known who she was when they arrived, she quickly made an impression. Her hit song “First Last Name” was a crowd favorite, and expressed a relationship with her father. After a few songs of her own, and a mashup of Little Big Town’s “Boondocks” and Lorde’s “Royals”, she left the stage for Currington to take.
Grand Rapids exploded as Billy entered the stage with his band and greeted the city. Currington played hit after hit throughout the night, including, “Do I Make You Wanna,” “Doin’ Somethin’ Right,” “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To,” and the heavily award-nominated song, “People Are Crazy.” Currington also played his newest release, “Details,” and his most recent song to reach the top of charts, “Bring It On Over.”
Currington bounced around the stage, with his guitar and signature backwards ball cap, to each song. He threw out multiple guitar pics and laughed with enthusiastic fans. Everyone was singing along and didn’t want the night to end anytime soon.
Currington and his band wished a fun and safe night upon the crowd as they exited the stage, but this did not bode well with fans. Less than a minute later, “Billy” was being chanted until the man and his band took one more stand. Currington, being lured back onto the stage, played three more songs, including the fan favorite “Good Directions”. After the singing had come to an end, Currington stayed on stage and gave high fives and guitar pics out to fans as others began to make their way out of the venue.
Without a doubt, Billy Currington left a positive and memorable impression on country music fans, and would be welcomed to ‘Bring It On Over’ back to Grand Rapids anytime!
Nate Feuerstein, NF as he is known to fans, will be making a highly anticipated return to his home state for a tour promoting his new album, The Search, released July 26, 2019. He will be making stops in Grand Rapids (Sep. 13 at Deltaplex Arena) and Sterling Heights (Sep. 14 at Michigan Lottery Ampitheater) on a tour that will take him across the country and internationally for the first time.
Feuerstein has managed to gain relevance with lyrics that touch on serious subjects that are largely ignored by others in the genre and harnessing the power of social media, YouTube and Spotify. This has enabled him to gain fans across the musical spectrum, ranging from Christian teens to hardcore hip-hop enthusiasts.
While many fans may have learned of NF most recently during his meteoric rise on the back of his 2017 album, Perception, and its triple platinum track, “Let You Down,” his fans will be quick to remind you that he is not new to the hip-hop scene. Feuerstein addresses this notion directly in the first single to be released from The Search, “Why,” when he says, “Let You Down’s the only song you’ve heard of? Well then you’re behind.”
This sentiment has made its way into Feauerstein’s lyrics before as well. In his song,“All I Have,” from his third studio album, Perception, he echos the same: “And y’all know what’s stupid? I thought all you had to do was get a record deal and yo things start moving. But that’s not the case because most of the times the artists you hear, You keep on thinking that artist is new but that artist has probably been at it for years.”
After releasing his first three studio albums through Capitol Records (Mansion in 2015, Therapy Session in 2016 and Perception in 2017), Feuerstein has released The Search on his own label, NF Real Music, in partnership with distributor, Caroline Records. It is a gamble that has already paid dividends as sales of his album and forthcoming tour are already beating projections. The Search is locked in a battle with Chance the Rapper’s new release for the #1 album in the country this week.
Tickets for both shows can be purchased through his website and start at $46. Purchases of two tickets or more come with a complimentary copy of the album, marking another departure from the standard moneymaking model in the music industry. It is clear NF values deep connection his fans have with his music over his career and he is showing no signs of slowing down.