Even before they took the stage Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, 3 Doors Down had a couple of things working against them.
1. They had to follow a brilliant, 360-degree sunset that hung over Al Lang Stadium for the better part of a half-hour.
2. They had to follow Collective Soul.
You wouldn't think that second one would be such a challenge. But dang if the Atlanta rockers didn't steal the show out from under the night's headliners with a sunset-boosted set of Southern alternative rock.
"I f—ing hate when they say that rock 'n' roll is dead, because you know what? I'm still f—ing breathing!" bellowed Collective Soul singer Ed Roland.
Indeed he is. Between them and openers Soul Asylum, 3 Doors Down and Collective Soul delivered on the promise of their summer tour, dubbed the Rock 'n' Roll Express Tour.
I was there to write about the experience of watching live music in a baseball stadium-turned-soccer pitch that has suddenly become Pinellas County's largest concert venue — you can read more about that here — but came away impressed with Collective Soul's surprisingly excellent set.
You don't think of Collective Soul as a Southern rock band, but the Atlanta natives were all too happy to get loose and Allmany on some of their biggest hits, including a slightly jammed-out December. Roland, a more charismatic frontman than you'd expect, took a seat at a piano to plink out a soulful, Leon Russell-worthy intro to Shine, before the song exploded into a titanic, all-out rock performance.
Gel, Heavy and Where the River Flows were all grinding guitar wonders, and The World I Know and Run kick-started expected but enthusiastic fan sing-alongs. On the latter, which closed the show, Roland strummed his way off the stage as the rest of the band rattled tambourines and tossed picks to the crowd.
"I'm sweaty. I'm stinky. But do I have your attention, St. Pete?" Roland said.
As for 3 Doors Down, they remain workmanlike purveyors of Delta-fried post-grunge, a genre that's had its day and retained plenty of acolytes — all the hooting and hollering that followed their biggest hits was proof of that. Singer Brad Arnold worked up a set within the first couple of songs, flexing and stomping around the multi-tiered stage.
Even 3 Doors Down's best songs are Southern rock ultralite, Skynyrd without the danger and the funk. But Arnold is a good singer; his taut voice channeled Maynard James Keenan on Loser, and infused overly earnest ballads like Be Like That and Here Without You with honest heart. Few active rock songs still jangle and rollick like Kryptonite, even if it morphed, briefly and bizarrely, into reggae toward the end. They even delivered some pretty potent punk on Danko and In America.
That last one was a Charlie Daniels cover, and was about the only time they really let their conservative not-so-freaky flag fly.
"With everything going on in America, and all the media portraying this divided nation, that's bulls—," Arnold said. "This is America. That's what this song's about."
In contrast to Arnold's stream of "God blesses" and "God bless Americas," Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner played through smirks and smiles, clearly having a fun, goofy time on hits like Misery and Somebody to Shove, and putting the soul back into their name with Whatcha Need. Six songs was too short a set for this underrated band, but they made the most of it.
"Here's one we just threw together in the dressing room for you," he said before strumming out the band's signature hit, Runaway Train.
The rain that dripped ever so slightly during Soul Asylum's set ultimately held off, yielding a stunning sunset around the time Collective Soul left the stage. That was fitting. Nothing against Soul Asylum or 3 Doors Down, but this night belonged to them.
— Jay Cridlin