Full Circle 2014: Days of the New’s reunion tour displays familiar talents, familiar flaws.
Days of the New have had a tumultuous music career. Formed in Louisville in 1995, when band members Jesse Vest, Matt Taul, Todd Whitener and Travis Meeks were teenagers in high school, they experienced nearly immediate commercial success. The song Touch, Peel and Stand is a staple on rock-radio stations throughout the U.S. to this day, and their self-titled debut album quickly went platinum. They spent 1998 as an opener for Metallica and Jerry Cantrell (of Alice in Chains fame) playing large, sold-out stadium shows.
Behind the scenes, all was not well. Meeks, who has reportedly been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, gave several interviews declaring that he’d fired members of the band, declaring that they weren’t on his level as musicians. Label executives repeatedly denied his claims, but eventually the inevitable happened- Meeks fired the band and went into the studio alone, to create an album more in line with his creative vision.
Days of the New II, or ‘the Green album’, did not go platinum (or even gold!) like the previous debut. Selling around 450,000 copies, it was considered a disappointment commercially, though many fans hold it in high regard. The lead single, Enemy, features a number of different instrumental elements that represent the significant departure that Green took from the sound of Yellow.
Meanwhile, Meeks’ former bandmates, Taul, Vest and Whitener formed Tantric with vocalist Hugo Ferreira. Their self-titled debut went platinum, before their album sales embarked on the same downward trajectory as Days of the New.
Meeks’ last official album release (Days of the New III, also known as ‘Red,’) came in 2001 and Taul, Vest and Whitener each left Tantric one by one. In April of 2008, Meeks was featured on A&E’s show, Intervention, which covered his crystal methamphetamine addiction in detail. Between his Asperger’s and his addiction, Meeks appears to be difficult to get along with, to say the least, judging by his appearance on Intervention and numerous awkward interviews available through Google.
All of that backstory is necessary to understand the dynamics at play during their show on July 18th at the Claddagh Pub in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Each of the openers preceding Days of the New (Maine’s Sygnal To Noise and Massachusetts’ 4×4 Barracuda) seemed to have sound problems, especially with the monitors. Each of them played through their set in a professional fashion with minimal complaining.
Meeks, however, did not. He angrily yelled about not being able to hear himself repeatedly. During a few tracks, he simply stopped singing all together, walked away from the microphone, and strummed his guitar. When he wandered off, Whitener stepped up to his backing mic and attempted to fill in lyrically. Meeks was incensed, at one point shouting toward the sound guy “This is how you’re going to treat the lead singer of Days of the New? Real fucking nice, man!” over the mic for everybody to hear. At least 5 or 6 times he stormed off the mic, stomped to the side of the stage, and berated unseen people offstage, gesturing wildly. On one of these occasions, he left the stage entirely and retreated to an area of the pub that was blocked off from the crowd by security and sat there for about 5 minutes.
And that’s a crying shame, because when Meeks’ antics weren’t upstaging the show, the band was excellent. Taul (drums) and Meeks (Guitar, vocals) were especially on top of their respective games, with creative drum fills and guitar solos sprinkled throughout their songs. The band opened with two songs from Meeks’ 1999 Green album, ‘Flight Response’ and ‘Enemy’, which is about as far as they got before Meeks started truly fuming during a previously unreleased track while the rest of the band pretended not to notice.
This created an awkward environment in the crowd. It seemed as though half the crowd was very turned off and upset by Meeks’ behavior, with people near me complaining loudly to each other.
“This is why they broke up in the first place, because [Meeks is] an asshole,” said one.
“Just play, asshole!” shouted another.
The other half of the crowd seemed to try to will the band through the rough patch; every solo completed was met with enthusiastic cheering and support. People loudly declared their affection for Meeks, and he even responded with an “I love all of you too!”
They labored through Touch, Peel and Stand and another previously unreleased track. Finally, the sound booth appeared to fix the problems Meeks was upset with- I couldn’t help but notice that the original worker in the sound booth (who I believe to have been a Claddagh Pub employee or contractor, though I don’t know this for sure) had been replaced by one of DotN’s crew members.
The difference was night and day; Meeks immediately perked up and stopped complaining, ceased pacing the stage frantically and locked into ‘the zone.’ He even showed a sense of self-awareness that, 20 minutes prior, had been sorely lacking and apologized to the crowd.
“You guys have been putting up with my shit all night, haven’t you? I’m sorry!” he said, receiving enthusiastic applause as a reply.
They played each of the singles from their 1998 platinum debut to large cheers and applause. Several other unreleased tracks were played to great approval from the crowd- it was a snapshot of all the potential this band always had from the beginning. With Meeks as maestro, the band played a fantastic second half to their show.
As a Days of the New fan myself, it was everything I wanted to see from them: Tight musicianship, enthusiasm for the material and positive energy. The guitar tone was killer and extraordinarily clear. The solos were creative and interesting. Meeks’ voice, once he himself could hear it, sounded every bit as soulful, deep and brooding as the Meeks we were introduced to in 1997 via ‘Touch, Peel and Stand.’ The band closed to raucous cheers from the few hundred in attendance, and patrons streamed out the door into the night.
I checked out the merchandise table on my way out the door and spoke with a man handling DotN’s merch. They had no music for sale due to a dispute with their former record label, instead having two different T-shirt designs for sale. The merch guy assured me that new music was scheduled to be released in the fall, but did not have any further information beyond ‘stay tuned to social media for more details.’
“Sure, if they make it that far,” I thought to myself. That Meeks had been able to get himself under control and continue to play a damn good show was promising, but the behavior preceding it revealed the same fault lines that fissured and tore the band asunder in the ‘90s.
Days of the New is continuing on their ‘Full Circle’ reunion tour through August 2014. For tour dates and band announcements, visit their Facebook page entitled: ‘Days of the New Presents Tree Colors’
Cover photo via Days of the New Presents Tree Colors