Garage bands, by nature, play for the love of playing. The bands with the hit singles more than likely come from the bar tradition, where entertainment, holding an audience’s attention and pop hooks propel an act to, at the least, a devoted following. Fastball is musically the former but stuck in a guitar-band world that favors the latter; they’ve found a college-age audience through “The Way,” one of ’98’s catchiest singles, yet their generally raw performance had an undercurrent of young men still trying to find themselves as public performers.
Credit some of that to the rock-club vacuum of Austin, Texas, where seemingly fame is based on how many of your friends’ friends make it to the gig. All that has changed, though, as “All the Pain Money Can Buy,” the Austin trio’s second album, has become the big summer earner for Disney-owned Hollywood Records.
The certified-gold album, a charming display of literate, post-Counting Crows rock ‘n’ roll taken from its roughest flank, was responsible for much of the material in Tuesday’s raucous romp, previewing a tour that starts Oct. 21 in Alabama. Songs were presented in a stripped-bare form despite the presence of guitarist-keyboardist Andy Blunda, the one who could add the flavors that distinguish Fastball from the pack that includes Marcy Playground, Matchbox 20, Wallflowers and the superior Third Eye Blind. Musical nuance would in turn shift some attention to the band’s story-based lyrics.
The raw approach, instead, exposes Fastball’s influences left and right — there are elements of the Who, Peter Frampton and even a few of the better Southern rock bands of the ’70s that crop up in the new material; older songs clearly find their roots in the late-’60s bands that aspired to be the next Them or Yardbirds. It’s fun and all, but after hearing “The Way,” with its clever Latin beat and false stops, about 25 minutes into the show, the members of Fastball relied on an avalanche of power chords as softer and slower material was met with an annoying din of conversation.
Miles Zuniga, guitarist and lead songwriter, has a slightly goofy stage presence that runs a nice counterpoint to bassist Tony Scalzo, who stiffens every time he steps up to the microphone. Chalk some of it up to the irksome presence of an MTV News camera that threw off the singers at times, but it’s clear neither commands the audience with authority. Certainly many of the college crowds they’ll see on their first club tour — the summer was spent doing 40-minute sets on HORDE — will find the lack of a focal point engaging. In the long run, tough, a band with this solid of an album under their belt needs to make that next step in the presentation.