No band like this — after millions of albums sold, several chart-topping singles and enough racks of leather pants to redress a dairy farm — should ever be considered an underdog.
But not every band is Creed. Upon its return Sunday night to the Chicago area after a six-year absence, the mega-successful Florida quartet received a champion’s welcome from a capacity crowd and a standing reception that lasted about an hour and 40 minutes.
Yet the band wisely downplayed playing the victor’s role. Since debuting in 1997, Creed’s commercial success long corresponded with critical disrespect, which hardened the band’s resolve to be taken seriously despite the self-destruction of lead singer Scott Stapp, whose combined mullet, hot pants, righteous posturing and supposed alcohol binges did not make that an easy mission.
They were the ingredients that led to a class-action lawsuit by an audience at the Allstate Arena in 2002, which sought $2 million in damages after Stapp, in an apparent drunken fit, abandoned the show midway through, further seeding the anti-Creed backlash.
At the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre Sunday, Stapp took his lumps: “I feel like the prodigal son in Chi-town. Thanks for letting me come back home.”
Stapp has updated his look (the trademark mullet is gone) but not the band’s stage show — dutifully punched up with fireworks, fog, bursts of fire and showers of sparklers — nor the music itself, which stuck to the grid of heavily compressed guitars, a hard funk undertone and song arrangements that usually followed the same formula of slowly fingerpicked notes, courtesy of guitarist Mark Tremonti, followed by a full band crescendo. Stapp even rapped a few verses on “Overcome,” a new song from the band’s fourth album, due in late October.
But if time hasn’t change Creed, then Creed may be changed for the better by time. By coming up in the rap-rock era, where stripper poles were as plentiful onstage as musical instruments, Creed was unfairly ridiculed for taking itself too seriously with songs that asked big questions and asked for resolve in the face of individual suffering.
Today, with the band and its audience older, those songs feel more natural, and even necessary. Stapp performed the best of these songs — “My Sacrifice,” “What’s This Life For,” “One Last Breath” — with conviction, his long-reaching bellow being his band’s most volatile instrument. The bombastic pop choruses and crunching power chords created the perfect arena-rock intersection of personal confession and group catharsis.
But Creed is still Creed, so the songs were performed without a thread of ambivalence, with a chest-thumping lead singer unashamed to drop to his knees or strike action poses in black leather pants. In this band’s muscle-bound theology, divinity is something to be grabbed by the horns on the wrestling mat and pinned down until the big man upstairs cries mercy.
Mark Guarino is a Chicago-based journalist. Visit mark-guarino.com.