Review: ‘Better Than Ezra; Satchel’

Better Than Ezra; Satchel (El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles; 900 capacity; $ 15) Promoted by Goldenvoice. Bands: (Ezra) Kevin Griffin, Tom Drummond, Travis McNabb, Jim Payne; (Sachel) Shawn Smith, John Hoag, Mike Berg, Regan Hagar. Reviewed Oct. 12, 1996. The music of Louisiana-based trio Better Than Ezra is a gritty, blues-based rock style that's both common in its arrangements and familiar-sounding in its straight-ahead delivery. Those two factors led to the left-field, platinum success of the band's self-produced "Deluxe" album last year but they're not exactly the makings of a truly fulfilling band. Still, the group, which adds a keyboard player in concert, is more intriguing than first impressions may suggest. Singer-guitarist Kevin Griffin's lyrics dig deeper than the usual blustery angst of the day, probing the human psyche. The best example is the group's current radio hit, "The King of New Orleans," one of the evening's best songs. On the surface, the tune seems like just another catchy pop entry. But beneath the arena-rock hook and sing-along words lies a tale of modern abuse and neglect inspired by an incident between rude tourists and a homeless youth witnessed by the band in its hometown. At the artsy El Rey Theatre, Better Than Ezra performed its songs with a polished ease, but also a palpable edge otherwise missing from its new "Friction Baby" (Elektra) album. Joking, Griffin introduced the band to the crowd with, "We are U2." But the reference wasn't that far off. Shades of that group, as well as James, Live and the Eagles all melodic bands who adeptly balance grit with drama appeared throughout the show, along with some actual covers and even its version of "Conjunction Junction," from the "Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks" compilation. Other highlights included "Rosealia" and "Good," two pop gems from "Deluxe," as well as "Normal Town," an upcoming single from the current album. Nevertheless, BTE was almost outclassed by openers Satchel, a Seattle band that features one of modern rock's most engaging vocalists, Shawn Smith. The soft-spoken singer cuts a Dr. John/Leon Russell figure behind his keyboards, offering haunting and silky songs of hope and yearning from the band's "The Family" (Epic) album. Troy J. Augusto

Better Than Ezra; Satchel (El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles; 900 capacity; $ 15) Promoted by Goldenvoice. Bands: (Ezra) Kevin Griffin, Tom Drummond, Travis McNabb, Jim Payne; (Sachel) Shawn Smith, John Hoag, Mike Berg, Regan Hagar. Reviewed Oct. 12, 1996. The music of Louisiana-based trio Better Than Ezra is a gritty, blues-based rock style that’s both common in its arrangements and familiar-sounding in its straight-ahead delivery. Those two factors led to the left-field, platinum success of the band’s self-produced “Deluxe” album last year but they’re not exactly the makings of a truly fulfilling band. Still, the group, which adds a keyboard player in concert, is more intriguing than first impressions may suggest. Singer-guitarist Kevin Griffin’s lyrics dig deeper than the usual blustery angst of the day, probing the human psyche. The best example is the group’s current radio hit, “The King of New Orleans,” one of the evening’s best songs. On the surface, the tune seems like just another catchy pop entry. But beneath the arena-rock hook and sing-along words lies a tale of modern abuse and neglect inspired by an incident between rude tourists and a homeless youth witnessed by the band in its hometown. At the artsy El Rey Theatre, Better Than Ezra performed its songs with a polished ease, but also a palpable edge otherwise missing from its new “Friction Baby” (Elektra) album. Joking, Griffin introduced the band to the crowd with, “We are U2.” But the reference wasn’t that far off. Shades of that group, as well as James, Live and the Eagles all melodic bands who adeptly balance grit with drama appeared throughout the show, along with some actual covers and even its version of “Conjunction Junction,” from the “Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks” compilation. Other highlights included “Rosealia” and “Good,” two pop gems from “Deluxe,” as well as “Normal Town,” an upcoming single from the current album. Nevertheless, BTE was almost outclassed by openers Satchel, a Seattle band that features one of modern rock’s most engaging vocalists, Shawn Smith. The soft-spoken singer cuts a Dr. John/Leon Russell figure behind his keyboards, offering haunting and silky songs of hope and yearning from the band’s “The Family” (Epic) album. Troy J. Augusto

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