Author: Zurell, Jessica
Date published: May 25, 2011
Politicians have been after this secret for decades: how to instill passion for diversity without manipulation tactics or infomercials. The divine secret is in the drumbeat. Sully Erna, lead singer of the gravelly band Godsmack, made this unmistakably clear with prowling ethnic percussion during his May 15 concert at the Mulroy Civic Center's Crouse-Hinds Theater. Aside from an array of guitars, the stage featured two drum kits, timpani and an entire tribe of ethnic drums - a sign of what Erna had in store.
"If music is sound and sound is nothing more than vibration, do we hear music or do we feel it?" he asked the crowd when his solo project made a stop in Syracuse, as he continued his tour in support of the album Avalon (Universal Republic). His interpretation of music at its most primitive level brought a diverse audience to its feet.
Erna was adamant about Avalon being a separate venture, quenching the thirst to finish the fragments of songs he wrote independently from Godsmack. Avalon formed as songs that neither fit the band's image nor received enough kindling to become bonfires.
Playing through the album in its entirety allowed Erna to highlight the incredible musicianship onstage. Erna's "little superhero," Bulgarian cellist Irina Chirkova, astounded onlookers in an extended intro of "Until Then," her thick velvet sound swelling around Erna's piano lines and soaring into every corner of the theater.
Drummers Niall Gregory and David Stefanelli beat their way to the foreground in another extended intro to "The Rise," satiating the fans in the audience who witnessed Erna's famed drum battles at Godsmack shows. The drums ranged from snares to djembes and the rhythm was purely ancient, taken straight from an ancient ritual. Yet it wasn't an embrace of culture, but rather a celebration.
Images on a video projection screen continued throughout the night, touching a raw nerve during "My Light," when Erna's daughter appeared on screen for a heartfelt story of father-daughter love. One video bordered on cliché, however, during "Eyes of a Child," depicting the AIDS epidemic and coming off as more of an infomercial - albeit an earnest one.
Stealing the show was Erna's female vocal counterpart, Lisa Guyer. Her voice was a trained wolverine, perfectly balanced and controlled without compromising a single drop of its feral magic. Rich and full-bodied (literally, this woman has chiseled, meaty guns that put Madonna's twigs to shame), her voice transfixed the audience with every gravelly growl and satin glissando. Guyer also scored in the final encore medley, as the audience rose to its feet to join into a few dozen bars of "Hey Jude."
It isn't often that a band formed after the early 1980s has the ability to strike a chord with a wide demographic. Rock speaks to rock, country drawls to country, and the beat goes on. What Erna has successfully pulled off with Avalon is stripping music down to its basic rhythms, down to its roots in cultures around the globe, and making it an unforgettable musical experience.