In the midst of the hectic pre-Super Bowl events and festivities that have overtaken the Twin Cities this week, Friday night brought Minneapolis a moving and inspiring sold out performance of An Open Book: An Evening With Justin Furstenfeld to The Cedar Cultural Center. You may better remember Furstenfeld as the frontman from the Blue October, the alternative rock band that swept the early 2000s with memorable songs like Hate Me and Into The Ocean. Though his performance still held familiar elements of the intense and powerful music many Blue October fans have come to love, it was ultimately a stripped-down and much more intimate and honest version of Furstenfeld’s journey through the music industry, with particular attention paid to his struggles and triumphs along the way. “I’ve always been honest,” stated Furstenfeld, while emphasizing the importance of facing himself and of using music as an outlet, “even when I was 15 thinking about suicide I still wrote about it”. Throughout the night, Furstenfeld embraced the vulnerability of truthful and genuine storytelling both verbally and musically.
With chairs packed tightly and curving throughout the venue, The Cedar Cultural Center was the perfect place for Furstenfeld to tell his story. Aside from a dim lamp lighting each side of the stage and a few dull spotlights directed right where Furstenfeld sat, the space rested in darkness, and remained undisturbed throughout the night, without even cell phone lighting from audience members surfacing. The room was also small enough that he was able to leave his seat to pace from one end of the stage to the other, while still delivering his message without the aid of a microphone; something he did liberally throughout the night. This allowed him to crouch down, hold the hands of audience members, and even jump off the stage to move through the rows and create an immersive and interactive experience for those in attendance.
Furstenfeld weaved through the tales of his experiences and how each one shaped the songs he has written in his lifetime. He covered topics like the failures of his first band, experimenting with “the devil’s lettuce” high-school love interests, fatherhood, divorce, custody battles, relapsing, rehab, and looking for God. Each song was introduced with an in-depth backstory that shed light on their true meanings and gave listeners and entirely new outlook when it came to what their old familiar songs truly held within them; an experience that many musicians seem to be more vague or discreet about. Each song was filled with accents and adlibs that added to the true emotions that Furstenfeld experienced while in the songwriting process.
He was extremely animated throughout the evening, from the voices he’d use to the faces he’d make; his performance was entirely different from the angst and anguish that Blue October is typically associated with, while at many points even going so far as to dip into humorousness. Furstenfeld crafted the perfect mix of raw emotion, humility, and lightheartedness, as he alluringly guided the audience through even the most severe and grievous topics.
When songs like Breakfast After Ten and Hate Me were finally played, the energy in the audience shifted and you could tell that everyone felt compelled to sing along, but did so timidly, lowly, and under their breaths as if not to disturb Furstenfeld or the moment that he had created. The verses of each song he played were deep and captivating; he beckoned a listening ear as he poured out the words in almost a deep and heavy whisper. He kept his vocals tender and emotional, until with an energetic and ringing switch in timbre, he belted out the final chorus of Hate Me, backed by unguarded emotion and lingering distress. The crowd remained soundless, but this time, not by choice or out of respect, but simply because it was a moment of purity that left everyone speechless.
Openness and honesty were key themes throughout the night, as Furstenfeld mentioned that the goal of these solo acoustic shows was to give back to the fans in a way that he was unable to when he was first touring. He added, that he had never put on a sober performance back then, and that after recovering in rehab and getting back on track with his life and his loved ones, felt motivated to deliver truthful and motivational messages to those he had deceived in previous years. By implementing vulnerability and boundless truth, he was beyond successful in giving a performance that stunned audience members and created new and positive connatations to his music.