O.A.R. Austin Music Hall, Austin, TX 2/5/09
O.A.R. may be all grown up (as in, over 30) and batting their eyelashes at the mainstream (re: last yearʼs uber-produced All Sides, and a recent appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show), but devotees of the poster boys for high school come college rock have no reason to weep when their heroes hit the road. The bandʼs live show is, as the song goes, still crazy after all these years: loads of mid-tempo pop-reggae grooves, splashes of improvisation and literate odes to friends, love and lifeʼs big questions.
Austin was the last stop on O.A.R.ʼs tour in support of All Sides but they smartly avoided over-plugging the new album, instead crafting a setlist that read more like a greatest hits package. A few new tunes were thrown into the mix ( “War Song,” “This Town” ), but it was really the staples like “Love and Memories,” “About an Hour Ago” and “Wonderful Day” that got the the crowd swaying to the beat, beer cups raised.
During extended versions of “City on Down” and the slinking, slow-burning “Dareh Meyod,” the group indulged its inner-jamband, proving they know how to find the pocket, even if theyʼre not stellar technicians. Saxophonist Jerry DePizzo, who alternated throughout the night between alto, tenor and baritone, was clearly the star of the instrumental breaks, with bright, soulful solos that spiraled up octaves, hopped arpeggios and trickled back down easily.
By the time the band got around to flagship songs like “Black Rock” and “Hey Girl,” the energy in the house was palpable. The vocals of guitarist Marc Roberge were, at times, drowned out by the audience and bassist Benj Gershman looked more like he was clawing through his instrument than plucking it. Even the staid and sedate Richard On showed some serious “guitar face” during the finale―an absolutely spot-on, powerhouse cover of a cover: The Beatles-via-Joe Cockerʼs “A Little Help From My Friends.”
And there was, of course, an encore. It started with the wistful “I Feel Home,” stepped up a notch with the made-for-radio pop-rocker “Shattered” (which could have been a James Blunt b-side) and went amps-to-11 with a very long and very rollicking version of what might be considered the unofficial O.A.R theme song, “That was a Crazy Game of Poker.” If the show up to that point hadnʼt proven it yet, then “…Poker” did: You can take the band out of college, but not the college out of the band.