Blue October back in Vancouver and happier than ever

Blue October at the Venue Nightclub, 06/23/19

Photo by William Cook

In 2006, a man in eyeliner, wearing a suit and tie, began making frequent appearances on TV screens throughout North America with a song called “Hate Me.”

The man was Justin Furstenfeld, the lead singer of Blue October, and the song soon became an anthem for a certain category of angsty teenagers.

It was a hugely emotional and personal song complete with a chorus meant to be lodged in your head for days. Though it seemed to slide the band right into the emo genre, they never did find a place among emo acts of the day like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, or AFI. 

Blue October was different. Sure, “Hate Me” likely was a staple on many emo playlists, but to ask most teenagers at the time if they could name another song from the band, you’d likely get a resounding, “No.” However, for those who did dive deeper than the billboard hit, they would find much more to fall in love with from the Houston band. 

The band continued to push out new music but would never again receive the same attention, seemingly only being noticed by active followers. It’s hard to say exactly why Blue October never saw a higher level of success. There’s a gritty and brutal honesty to their music that possibly could never fit on modern rock radio, which is also linked to Furstenfeld’s history with mental health and an addiction to drugs and alcohol.

While the band was at the peak of their success, Furstenfeld was on a downwards slide and it got to the point where he could hardly manage his own life.

In 2012, with the support of his bandmates, he checked himself into rehab, and after nearly three months he left and has remained sober ever since. The three albums following have shown a stark contrast to the band’s earlier work. Fans saw the music go from songs of self-turmoil, anger, depression, and hatred, to songs of gratitude, forgiveness, and happiness. As a fan of the man behind the music, there’s nothing but respect and praise to be given. As a fan of the music however, the shift in subject matter dampened the appeal of a band that was known for their intensely emotional and cathartic material. 

Photo by William Cook

In 2019, Furstenfeld appears to be in a better spot in life than ever before and on Sunday night he returned with his band to Vancouver for the first time in four years. The Venue Night Club filled up nicely and the crowd gave Blue October a wonderful welcome. The audience was full of colour, literally. With many tattoos to be seen, dyed hair, and some spunky outfits, it appeared to be a rather artsy group in attendance. 

If you were there to hear the band’s pre-2012 work, you were in for a disappointment. 17 songs were performed, four of which came from anything but their past three releases. It appears Blue October have moved on to a new chapter since Furstenfeld’s sobriety and are choosing to almost entirely block out their early work. This did not stop fans from enjoying an impressive set as the quintet showed off their years of experience on stage with a big and bright performance.

And for the fans of the older work, they were gifted in the encore with an acoustic combo of the romantic “18th Floor Balcony” and of course, “Hate Me,” where, left alone with an acoustic, Furstenfeld had the opportunity to display the true heights of his vocal capabilities.

Another highlight of the night came from a song off last year’s release called, “I’ll Do Me, You Do You.” Furstenfeld introduced the track with a speech about toxic relationships:

“There’s a point when you learn from it and you decide what’s good for you and what’s not…There’s this hoola hoop around you that allows you to say…I’ll do me, you do you.”

It’s hard to imagine him sharing words of advice like this 10 years ago. His happiness and charisma were a pleasure to witness and as a fan, you can’t help but be inspired by the man’s journey.