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Chevelle waves the hard-rock flag at Rams Head Live

For The Baltimore Sun
Review: While peers jump ship, Chevelle remains dedicated to hard rock at Rams Head Live.

Hard-rock stalwarts Chevelle headlined radio station 98 Rock’s “Not So Silent Night” at Rams Head Live on Wednesday night. The Chicago trio — which consists of Pete Loeffler (vocals and guitar) and Sam Loeffler (drums) along with brother-in-law Dean Bernadini (bass) — are currently supporting their April release "La Gargola."  

If Wednesday’s capacity crowd is any indication, the band has developed a loyal base of supporters via a tight live show and broad, powerful sound. 

With seven albums under their belt, Chevelle has a sizeable catalog to pull from for live shows. During Wednesday’s 90-minute set, they sprinkled in selections from each era of their career. 

Fans surged toward the stage and began a full night of crowd-surfing during opener “An Island,” from their current release. They followed up with “Hats Off to the Bull” from the 2011 album of the same name and “Sleep Apnea” from 2009's "Sci-Fi Crimes.

The power trio fit well into a club the size of Rams Head Live, where their broad sound filled the 1,800-person venue easily. Chevelle’s studio albums are major-label endeavors, full of multilayered tracking and effects. Their ability to recreate the feel of their albums live is a key to their durability. 

Chevelle is a meat-and-potatoes band. They originated in the mid-'90s and rose to prominence in the early millennium, when guitar-based hard rock was not nearly as unfashionable as it is now. Their lyrics are obscure in a distinctly hard-rock way. Their subjects are seemingly conflict-driven, but those conflicts could be political, interpersonal or really anything that a listener wants to project into them.  

For years now, guitar-based rock has attracted a decreasing share of the music market. Yet, Chevelle has stayed bankable while resisting the trend-chasing urges of some of their contemporaries. They didn’t make a dubstep record in 2012 when a few of their peers (Korn, Three Days Grace) did. They have yet to take a country turn (like Staind and *cough” Halestorm) in hopes that a blue collar fan base would follow them to Nashville. 

In the absence of a dance-beat shift or a pivot into the literalism of country lyrics, Chevelle has evolved slowly within the hard-rock genre. Their set maintained their signature sound throughout, to be sure, but the songs are punctuated with flourishes that distinguish them from one another.

The cowbell in the first single from "La Gargola’s" “Take Out the Gun Man,” for example, or the double-bass intro to “Sleep Apnea,” are added to the band’s basic formula in a showcasing way. Live, frontman Loeffler’s ability to transition effortlessly from throaty screaming choruses to melodious verses is striking, but it’s the little variations from the soft-heavy-soft formula that keep Chevelle from growing stale. 

Perhaps it was this progressive impulse that influenced the semi-acoustic live rearrangement of encore “The Red” on Wednesday. Loeffler performed the first two verses of Chevelle’s first and highest-charting hit with guitar and vocals only. His brother and brother-in-law then reappeared to give the song its full sing-along weight. The crowd didn’t seem to mind the departure. They joined in when the power chords ripped into the chorus, picking up where they’d left off singing each of the previous songs.

Now that they’ve built up over a dozen years of singles and a fanbase that can easily fill a big room on a weeknight, Chevelle is poised to continue their slow-burning evolution within the genre while others seem to jump ship. 

Pottsville, Pa., quartet Crobot played an energetic nine-song set in support of the headliners. In contrast to their tourmates, Crobot has a relatively brief lineage. They released their first EP in 2012, but are quickly making a name for themselves. Their reputation will surely build through the exposure of national tours. Crobot’s sound combines the bass-laden funk groove of Clutch with the soaring vocals of the 80’s.  Radio single “Nowhere to Hide” showcases singer Brandon Yeagley’s high register, reminiscent of Myles Kennedy, and elsewhere he demonstrated impressive range.

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About the reviewer

Midnight Sun contributor Jay Trucker teaches English at the Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk. He has written about music for The Sun since 2010. He last reviewed the Shindig Music Festival in September.