Story and photos by Karen BondowskiHailing from the sunny state of Florida, Sister Hazel played their last night of a three night stint at the House of Blues in Chicago. Tonight's show and the second show were sold out - filling the club with enough Hazelnuts to make even Mr. Peanut drool.
Restlessly awaiting the band - fans began to chant for their idols - apparently bored with the large monitor above the stage showing an endless rotation of upcoming shows. Thankfully, Sister Hazel heard their cries and as the curtain rose, they stood casually and confidently as they warmed the happily melodic notes to "Your Mistake." Ken Block (vocals, acoustic guitar), who was strumming on his guitar, walked with ease to the middle of the stage and readied his mic for a hard night's work. "Thank You" off of Fortress found Block convincingly singing to the audience. The happy lyrics wink and grin and dare you not to smile. Their mainstream brand of pop might seem saccharine to some on first listening, but dig a little deeper and you'll find the catchy melodies and clever lyrics lodge themselves deep inside your memory lobe. Humming their tunes will become unconscious and mandatory.
With Mark Trojanowski confidently creating a swirling canvas of euphoric beats - rhythm guitarist Andrew Copeland (gracing the stage with bare feet) took to the mic as Ken fell back while happily strumming along. Andrew's voice on "Strange Cup of Tea" was smooth, but sill rock 'n roll with its rough edges enveloping the high notes.
Techs quickly set up five chairs on stage and left Mark with a smaller drum set to help strip things down a bit. Ken masters his acoustic guitar while Ryan eagerly picked the mandolin on the subdued energy of "Ain't No Way to Live" which is off of their last album, Lift. Ken got up for a minute and switched guitars and traded Jeff his bass for an accordion on the jaunty "Your Winter." Also, "All About the Love" was done with a stripped down acoustic flair. Ken exclaimed "You guys are getting a world premiere of a new tune that we've been working on called, "Knew a Girl." This was a real treat as the harmonies and melodies collided into a multi-layered soundscape.
Taking a tiny break. Ken started talking about how life is what you make of it. You should make yourself happy by doing anything you want. Of course, I and fellow "hazelnuts" in attendance knew "Happy" was next on deck. Sure enough, Mark crashed down on the drums, staying on cue with the guitars and Ken got into the swing with some wickedly fine vocals. The band had landed squarely back on their feet.
Coming back to cap the evening, "Just Remember" had everyone dancing back and forth with one another. "Champagne High" was a bittersweet tune and found the entire band smoothly melding into form. "Starfish" had it's upbeat and fun delivery capped with about 50 beach balls falling from the ceiling into the extended arms of the waiting audience. "Superman" let it's quirky chord progessions flow nicely with the chorus..."Superman, here I am" had Block hold up both arms to the the left as the audience dutifully followed suit and then all swayed their arms to the right as everbody sang, "Superman, here I am." again. Doing this each time the chorus was sung. It must be noted that lead guitarist Ryan Newell's smokin' guitar licks harkened back to the days of '70s guitar heros on many songs throughout the evening's performance.
These guys are all about the love and fun they encounter through the songs they have made for others to enjoy. They cast an upbeat and positive mood in most of their songs. They are genuinely appreciative and thankful for their fans. Personally, if one member had left the band, it wouldn't be the same. Each individual brings his own unique style to the table. The sum equals the parts. Sister Hazel's music should be embraced for what it is - a reminder that it's OK to be happy.
Sister Hazel's House of Blues set list: Your Mistake
Change Your Mind
Strange Cup of Tea/Midnight Rambler
World Inside My Head
Ain't No Way to Live
All About the Love
Life Got in the Way
Knew A Girl
All For You
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