in performance: blessed union of souls

Blessid Union of Souls. From left, Chris Arduser, David Lessing, Eliot Sloan, Brian Lovely and Dave Ramos.

“It’s a beautiful night for a show,” admitted Eliot Sloan a few songs into Blessid Union of Souls’ sleek and exuberant headlining set last night at the Christ the King Oktoberfest. No argument. With the rains of the week having dissipated and the beer gardens and bingo tents doing especially brisk business, the Cincinnati band settled into a 90 minute set focused squarely on the soul bravado of Sloan’s singing and his band’s efficient brand of power pop and retro-hued rock.

“Retro” was the operative but perhaps not obvious word for the performance. Blessid Union of Souls’ popularity can be traced to a pair of ‘90s radio hits – “I Believe” and “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me)” – from the Blessid Union of Souls’ first and third albums (1994’s “Home” and 1999’s “Walking Off the Buzz”). That era of commercial pop – defined by songs strong on sentiment, affirmation and frequent bursts of hook-heavy melodies – largely spoke to the base of operations Sloan and company operated from for much of the 90 minute set.

The show opening “Oh Virginia,” for instance, let Sloan’s tireless stage demeanor sell those traits through bursts of crisp, churchy sounding pop. Admittedly, the singer had help by way of two veterans of the Cincy pop wars – drummer Chris Arduser and guitarist Brian Lovely – who injected the tune, as well as the music that followed, with a strong, efficient drive.

So resolute was Blessid Union of Souls’ devotion to ‘90s pop that even the set’s plentiful of level cover tunes reflecting a jukebox level of familiarity (meaning hits by U2, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, The Beatles and more) largely wound up sounding like post grunge radio fare. It was all efficiently executed, but a little, well, safe sounding.

This devotion to pop past’s also extended to the band’s treatment of its own songs, even to the point of sandwiching “Hey Leonardo” in the middle of a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

It was all good natured, enough. Sloan consistently sounded strong and it was great having an ace like Arduser back on Lexington soil again. His explosive rhythmic turns on “Girl I’ve Been Telling You About,” in fact, were the highlight of the show. But after a closing cover of “Pride (in the Name of Love),” the crowd enthusiasm didn’t dissipate. That’s because the bingo tent has just crowned another winner.

Church bingo and rock ‘n’ roll. After all these years of Oktoberfest, that’s a combo platter that still astounds.


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