Let’s Talk Sundown and Better Than Ezra

Sundown in the City Crowd: Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

Just imagine in a two hour period of time having your head repeatedly come within inches of being bashed by a hormone and other chemically impaired teenage boy whose idea of  a fun time consists of throwing his head and body as far back as his spinal column will allow without snapping while yelling incomprehensible noises into the night air and into your face as you stand behind him pressed by the crowd to the point there is nothing between your bodies to preserve a modicum of dignity.

Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

Consider the feeling during the same two hour stretch of having cigarette and other smoke blown into your face while you frantically dodge the burning coals from which the smoke emerges. Picture the careening body of a very drug-addled stranger nearly knocking you and a half-dozen others to the ground as he fights to the front of the stage, then turns angrily to confront anyone who complains. Of course consider yourself wet from sloshing beer glasses at every turn.

Put it all together and what do you have?

Rock and Roll, children, rock and roll.

Better Than Ezra, Market Square, Knoxville, May 2011

Better Than Ezra, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, May 2011

The above is a true and honest description of what I endured while listening to Better Than Ezra last Thursday night. I’d just enjoyed the thrill of a City Council Workshop followed by a nice meal at the French Market. Urban Woman and I met Cynthia Markert as we walked and they agreed it was a night to avoid the city streets if at all possible. I tipped my hat to the ladies and headed for the noise. I thought I knew some of Better Than Ezra’s songs, but I couldn’t have told you the names of any, so I’m certainly not a big fan, but I knew it would be a fascinating experience, as always, and that’s just the audience. The band is a bonus.

Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

The way I see it, art requires pain. For the artist and sometimes for the listener. In this case, it’s rock and roll, not the symphony, so don’t expect to sip a pleasant chardonnay while seated comfortably with an excellent view – unless you are one of the lucky people with a view from a Market Square condo. Besides, that’s like watching a football game in the booth. It may be nice. You may be cool and comfy, but you don’t hear the hits, feel the sonic boom of the crowd roaring in ecstasy and get the joy of high-fiving fat, sweaty strangers you wouldn’t hold a conversation with any other day of the week.

Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

In this case, my musical expectations were far exceeded. Better than Ezra had most of their hits years ago and I generally knew one line of the songs, as in the case of “Good,” in which I recognized the line about running through the wet grass. I always liked the song, but had no idea its name. In the case of “Desperately Wanting,” I only new one word, which isn’t exactly a word: “Unh Oh.” And I really liked that song. I may not remember running through the wet grass, but I remember when I could understand and memorize lyrics like all the teenagers surrounding me. I miss that. I also enjoyed some songs that I’m not sure I’d heard before like “King of New Orleans,” which really got the crowd started and “At the Stars.” I had no Better Than Ezra on my ipod, and I enjoyed the concert enough I added their “Greatest Hits,” on which all of these songs neatly reside.

Joining the crowd, Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

The band played straight-forward rock and roll, with a falsetto/soul twist thrown in just for fun every now and then. The melodies were strong, the vocals clear and the pretensions kept fully in check. The lead vocalist favored Jerry Seinfeld and had a very nice sense of humor, which is a plus with a rock band. I don’t care for the ones who take themselves just a bit too seriously. The bass player tended to strike the rock and roll pose, feet spread apart, bass pounding like a machine gun, but he looked too much like my dentist for me to take to seriously. (Hi Mike. I don’t mean to imply you don’t rock – you rock with the best, dude!) The drummer, who is a more recent addition to the band was game for any challenge and the band was rounded out by a multi-instrumentalist who generally hid behind the others.

Audience member Lance on cowbell joins Better Than Ezra on stage

I had a blast, but it is what it is. If you can’t handle a little rock and roll jostling about, it’s probably not your scene. This Thursday night is jam band Umphrey’s Magee. I’ll miss them. I’ve seen them before and I was pretty much bored after a while, though the crowd will likely be much more pleasant and fun to watch than last week (think children who would have been Dead Heads back in the day), so if you like jam bands, you might enjoy it. I’ll miss it because I’ll be listening to Katy Free and Wendel Werner at Remedy that night. Join me there if you like great vocals and great, jazzy music.

Greg Tardy

One final musical note: tonight the will be the first of a weekly series called Jazz on the Square featuring Greg Tardy (amazing tenor saxophone player), Vance Thompson (trumpet), Keith Brown (piano), Taylor Coker (bass) and Kenneth Brown (drums). I will definitely hit this one and hope to catch the others. I suspect you could bring a  chair to this one and sit comfortably without having your view blocked. It’s not rock and roll, it’s jazz, but it rocks, too.