Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sadler Vaden Returns

At a recent performance by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, the band was launching into “Never Gonna Change,” a song Isbell wrote while he was still in the Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers. Just as Isbell started to sing the first verse, he noticed a fight break out near the front of the crowd. In the video, captured by a fan, Isbell promptly stops the song, admonishes the troublemakers, and has them tossed, promising them they’ll be refunded their ticket money. It’s all handled quite well by Isbell. Looking stage left on the video, there’s none other than former Charleston resident Sadler Vaden  playing guitar. After years of playing gigs in town with his band, Leslie, Vaden was tapped a couple of years ago to play guitar for the popular Georgia rock band Drivin ‘N Cryin. That led to him being asked last year to join Isbell’s band, which will perform here in town Monday night at the Charleston Music Hall. 
Talking by phone from his home in Nashville, Vaden explains what it was like to experience Isbell’s handling of that fight from the stage. “(Jason) was the first one to see it,” Vaden recalled. “It’s hard to tell sometimes, because we’re looking out at a mass of people swaying around, so it’s  tough to differentiate a fight from someone leaving to go get a beer. It was right in front of him, and he said, ‘Hold on a minute!’ We were playing and we knew those weren’t the lyrics to the song, and if you look at the video, we stop on a dime!”
Vaden talked about how he ended up in The 400 Unit. “I got a call from (Isbell’s) manager,” said Vaden, “and she basically said, ‘Hey, Jason’s wanting another guitar player in the group, and he brought your name up, I’m calling to see if you’re up for joining the 400 Unit?’ So it was kind of a sudden thing. That was last March. I was on my way home from playing with Drivin ‘N Cryin at the NCAA Final Four at the Georgia Dome, and I had already committed to a bunch of dates with Drivin ‘N Cryin, and so initially I was kind of like they were feeling me out and I was feeling them out. So I played with (Isbell) and left the tour when I had to fulfill my dates with Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’, and then Isbell’s schedule started getting really busy, and it eventually came down to Isbell’s camp saying ‘Hey, are you going to be at every gig, or what?‘ Drivin ‘N Cryin’ was really cool about it. They eventually needed to have someone at every gig too, so they hired Aaron Lee Tasjan, who I met through Kevn.” Vaden also revealed a good prior history working with Isbell. “Leslie used to open for him when he played Charleston,” said Vaden. “Derry (Deborja), who plays keyboards for Jason, had been playing out with me in the Sadler Vaden Band, so for Jason, I just feel like it just felt natural to ask me. I didn’t have to audition. He knew I could play. It was a pretty easy transition, to tell you the truth.”
I mentioned that I’d missed Isbell playing at the Pour House last fall, and Vaden advised that he had too. “I was still fulfilling dates for Drivin ‘N Cryin, and we actually played in town the next night,” says Vaden. “A lot of people were super confused, because they’d heard I had joined Jason’s band, and there were two articles in a local paper, a Jason article and a Drivin ‘N Cryin article, which also mentioned me and Jason. So it was confusing.”
Vaden admitted he’s having a ball living the life of a rock band member. “The band’s great, the music is obviously great, and I’m getting to cross things off my bucket list. Austin City Limits on PBS, we sold out the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, we did Letterman, Conan, we played Lincoln Center for the American Songbook Series, and we’re going to Australia in two and a half weeks. It’s all the things I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve been wanting to make music for a living since I was 15.” 
When asked what the biggest differences are between Drivin ‘N Cryin and The 400 Unit, Vaden was diplomatic. It’s obvious both bands have been positive experiences for him. “There aren’t too many differences, because Drivin ‘N Cryin, as loud as it can be sometimes, Kevn (Kinney of Drivin ‘N Cryin) can also get his acoustic on sometimes, and that can be just as dynamic. It’s the same with Jason. The loud stuff’s loud, but he’s playing a lot of acoustic guitar on this tour with me backing him up, so it’s very similar. It was an easy transition for me, because neither Kevn nor Jason use a setlist.” 
When Isbell released his latest effort, the excellent “Southeastern,” last year there was a lot made in the press about the fact that the artist had stopped drinking. I asked Sadler if Isbell’s newfound sobriety has made a noticeable difference in his writing or performing.
“I think ‘Southeastern‘ is the best record he’s made so far,” said Vaden. “In my mind he’s always been a really good songwriter, so it’s hard for me to see a difference, because I’ve always liked his music. I think he has a clearer mind to sit down and write, instead of spending the day getting over the hangover. It’s work. He went to work. That’s one thing I’ve learned from him, as well as Kevn; when you hear that bird calling you’ve got to go to work.”    
Are there any of Isbell’s songs that Vaden particularly likes playing live? “I have to say that I really like playing ‘Flying Over Water,’ which is a song from the new album, and I also love playing ‘Relatively Easy,’” said Vaden. “From the back catalog, probably ‘Decoration Day.’” 
Aside from touring, Sadler hasn’t had much time to do much else but work, or to come back and visit his friends in Charleston, although he did find a little time last fall for a very special occasion. “I was (in Charleston) back in November, just before Thanksgiving, for awhile. I got engaged down there. Candice moved with me to Nashville from Charleston. She’s at Vanderbilt in nursing school. We’re looking at summer of 2015 for the wedding.” 
Even with all the time on the road though, Vaden somehow still finds time to make his own music, as well as gig with a lot of other folks. “Here in Nashville, when I have free time, which isn’t often these days, I play around with whoever I can,” says Vaden. “I just did  a gig with Holly Williams, Hank Williams Jr’s daughter, and I’m working on my next LP. I’ve already recorded four songs. That should hopefully be out before the end of the year. I’m working in the studio with Paul Eversole, who produced Leslie’s record. I also saw the guys in hey rocco earlier today. They’re working on their new album up here. No big touring plans for myself until Jason’s thing slows down a bit.” 
As for Monday’s show at the Charleston Music Hall, Vaden is really excited to be returning to his old stomping grounds to play in front of people that supported him in his younger days. “I’m really excited to play Charleston,” Vaden said, adding, “I hope people still remember who I am.”

Jason Isbell performs at the Charleston Music Hall on Monday, March 24 with opener Cory Branan. The show, which is sold out, starts at 7:30pm.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tyler James Mechem's Last Lowcountry Hurrah

I've been covering music in this town for almost twenty years, and in that time I have seen some pretty amazing local and regional artists come and go. For every act like Hootie & The Blowfish or Edwin McCain that have made it to stardom, there are a couple dozen acts just as good that never truly got their due. Jump, Little Children is a great example. While that stellar band got a record deal and released a great collection of songs, they ultimately never caught on nationally and eventually disbanded. It wasn't really the band's fault. Jump had a crazy amount of talent among its members, but these days making it in the music business is a lot like playing the lottery, although honestly it sometimes seems like the Powerball offers better odds. Heck, even Michael Trent and Carrie Ann Hearst played their hearts out for years as solo artists. Both are insanely talented, but it wasn't until the husband and wife joined forces as Shovels & Rope that they started really turning heads outside of Charleston and a few other markets. Now they're traveling the world, playing at festivals, being interviewed on NPR, and getting a little taste of success. They certainly deserve it. 
Among the most tragic "shoulda been huge" stories from the Lowcountry music scene, in my opinion at least, is Crowfield. For a few glorious recent years, that Americana/rock band ruled the Charleston music scene, traveling anywhere they could play. The band even scored a brief record deal, but ultimately walked away from it to maintain its integrity. In the end though, even with three solid albums of music under its belt, Crowfield folded. 
That band's lead singer Tyler James Mechem, has a combination of gifts that is rare among musicians. He's charismatic on stage, writes amazingly catchy and deeply emotional songs, and he sings in a huge voice that still gives me goosebumps when he hits certain notes. After the demise of Crowfield, Mechem formed the Dubious Battles, a short-lived local supergroup, and then turned to working on solo material under the name Tyler James Mechem and The Flood. He also went through some major life changes in the past couple of years, including getting married and welcoming a son into the world. They say that parenthood changes you as a person. I can certainly vouch for that. As the father of two young boys myself, my life priorities have definitely shifted. I live to make sure my kids have a happy, secure life. Sure, I still pursue my hobbies, like music and writing, but all night writing jags and wild nights hanging out with bands after a show have been replaced by being home to kiss my boys goodnight and meeting my oldest at the bus stop. I wouldn't trade it for anything. 
Mechem seems to feel the same way. I had a chance to talk to him earlier this week as he was on his way to a rehearsal for his upcoming show this Friday at the Pour House on James Island. "I love (fatherhood)," said Mechem. "They say it changes everything, but you don't know how much until it happens to you." Mechem's son is now five months old, and he, like most new parents, marvels at how quickly his child is already changing and growing. He also admits that, while music is certainly very important to him, his priorities have changed with becoming a father. That's a big part of what makes this Friday's show at the Pour House so special; it will likely be the last chance Lowcountry fans have to catch Mechem live for the foreseeable future. In January Mechem and his family will be moving back to Indiana, where he grew up. He came to Charleston a few years back with his friend and former Crowfield partner in crime Joe Giant, and the pair of musicians found steady work in the bars and clubs around town almost immediately. Now with a family to take care of Mechem says that the return to his home state is mostly about wanting his son to grow up surrounded by family. "Indiana is where my family is, and we want our baby to grow up around that family," said Mechem. "On paper Charleston has everything a person could want. I love it here, but if you don't have family it's hard." Mechem plans to work for LM Products, a company started by his grandfather in the 70's and currently run by his father. The company makes things like guitar straps and supplies large companies like Fender. The decision to move back home was made about a month or so ago. Mechem and his wife, Anna, made the announcement right around the same time he opened for Michael McDonald at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center earlier this month. "Opening for McDonald was a great experience," said Mechem. "The crowd was really receptive, they seemed to love the stories between the songs, and when I came out into the lobby afterward there was a line of people waiting to buy my CD. I sold every copy I had with me." 
For Friday's show Mechem will be joined by David Ellis from Explorers Club, Ben Scott from the Luke Cunningham Band, as well as former Crowfield cronies Whitt Algar and
Ben Meyer. The Tarlatans and The Bushels will open the show, which starts at 9pm. Mechem says he plans on playing a couple of Crowfield songs, some Dubious Battles material, and his new solo work. He also promises a surprise or two during the show. Tickets for the show are $8 in advance, $10 the day of the show.
It's the first real show Mechem has played with The Flood in its current form, and he joked that it would be the band's "debut and departure," given that he would be returning to Indiana after the new year. Mechem isn't the only local musician to leave town recently. Earlier this month Mechem's former drummer from Crowfield, Parker Gins, moved to Nashville to seek other musical opportunities. Local producer and musician Josh Kaler also lit out for Music City last month after a final show with Slow Runner. Does Mechem think that the recent departure of those musicians signal that something is lacking with the music scene here in Charleston? "I don't think those people leaving is representative of any downturn in the Charleston music scene," said Mechem. "Moving to Nashville is a fork in the road that any musician could consider, but in terms of loyalty and support of local music, I think Charleston rivals any city I've been in." 
Mechem still plans to pursue writing, recording, and performing music in Indiana, and he hopes to be able to come back to Charleston to visit from time to time. As someone who considers Tyler a friend, as well as whose music I became a fan of from the first listen, I wish him and his family well and look forward to his future musical endeavors. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

You Go Back Jack And Do It Again

I've found that when it come to some bands there are no fair weather fans. You're either on board or you can't stand them. Such is the case with Steely Dan. From 1972 to 1980 Walter Becker and Donald Fagen released seven divine albums that deftly mixed rock, jazz, funk, and any other number of musical genres. While they did play live, the real way to experience Steely Dan was with one of those albums on your turntable and headphones firmly attached to your noggin. Those guys were tight in the studio. They still are, actually. After the band broke up in 1981 Becker moved to Hawaii and farmed avocados while Fagen released a string of solo albums, including 1982's "The Nightfly" and 1993's "Kamakiriad," which Becker produced. The pair toured together in support of "Kamakiriad," and apparently that reunion stuck, because by 2000 a new Steely Dan album was on store shelves, the first studio release by the band in twenty years. That CD, "Two Against Nature," ended up winning four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.

So I guess you can tell by the brief history lesson that I'm one of those folks that is on board with Steely Dan. After lamenting the fact that I never got to see them live in their prime, I finally got the chance to do so back in 1994 during the band's first reunion tour. Unfortunately for me whoever it was running the sound at that North Charleston Coliseum show should have been shot. The band opened with "Do It Again," the first song from their first album, "Can't Buy a Thrill," but you could barely tell. It sounded like they were playing underwater. To say I was disappointed was an understatement.

Nearly twenty years later I got another chance to see the band play. This past Sunday night at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center Steely Dan played before a sold out audience. This time the sound was exquisite. After a great yet brief opening set by Chicago's own Deep Blue Organ Trio. The trio, which included Chris Foreman on Hammond B3, Greg Rockingham on drums, and Bobby Broom on guitar, only played three songs, but they made them count, especially their cover of the standard "The Way You Look Tonight" that ended their set.

After the openers, the Bipolar Allstars (the band minus Fagen and Becker) took to the stage and played a horn-leaden intro cover of Gerry Mulligan's "Blueport." Becker and Fagen then made their entrances, and for the next two and a half hours or so it was sheer Steely Dan heaven. Although they didn't play my favorite Steely Dan song, "Pretzel Logic," they did dig deep into the catalogue, and with the eleven-piece Bipolar Allstars backing them, Fagen and Becker really showed the crowd why Steely Dan's music still resonates more than forty years after that first album. If you weren't there, you missed an amazing show.


Blueport (Bipolar Allstars only)
Your Gold Teeth
Hey Nineteen
Showbiz Kids
Black Cow
Black Friday
Time Out of Mind
Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More
Razor Boy
Home At Last
I Want To (Do Everything For You)
My Old School
Reelin' In The Years

Kid Charlemagne
The Untouchables Theme (Bipolar Allstars only)

Monday, September 16, 2013

If I Stay It Will Be Double

I missed the apex of the original punk rock scene by about a decade. When it was at its height in the late 70's, I was still in the single digits. By the time I was old enough to start listening to music independently, I tended to gravitate toward new wave, punk's younger, gentler, synthesizer-leaden cousin. Still, once I learned about bands like The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Buzzcocks, I dove in as much as the local record stores in my area would allow. In the 80's Wal-Mart was where I did most of my music shopping, but occasionally I did get out to Prism Records, which was run by this albino guy who kept live rats in a pen in the middle of the store. Not surprisingly, this was the best place to buy punk rock records in town. I didn't delve too deep, but I sampled enough to understand the genre.

One of my favorite punk bands back then was The Clash. Sure, nowadays they are punk rock legends, but back in the weird musical world of the 80's, the snotty English band had done something pretty amazing; they'd cracked the Top 10 on the American charts with "Rock the Casbah," a song from the album "Combat Rock." I like to think that even the band's leader, the late great Joe Strummer, was kind of scratching his head at that. I bought "Combat Rock" for "Rock the Casbah," and soon fell in love with the sound of The Clash. That led me to their masterpiece, "London Calling." Yeah, I can hear all you punk purists groaning at the prospect of me beginning my Clash odyssey with anything other than "London Calling," but please remember I was a 12 year old kid with a 10-speed and a big box department store to supply most of my music, so I had to take what I could get.

Just last week Legacy Records released a couple of great Clash packages. For the super fan there is "Sound System," a spectacularly opulent box set that collects the band's first five albums on 8 CDs ("The Clash," "Give 'Em Enough Rope," "London Calling," "Sandinista!" and "Combat Rock"), then throws in an additional 3 CDs of extras. We're talking demos, singles that weren't on the albums, rarities and b-sides. There's also a DVD chock full of even more goodies including live footage and promotional videos. Add in posters, dog tags, stickers, badges, and fanzines, then pack it all up in a container that looks like a 1980's cassette boombox, and this is one of the cooler box sets I've seen in awhile.

For the more budget-minded there is "Hits Back," which collects 33 classic Clash tracks on two CDs. Rather than being just your run of the mill greatest hits package, the double album takes its track listing from an actual Clash setlist compiled by Strummer from a 1982 performance at Brixton Fairdeal. While there are some glaring omissions from the set, namely "Lost in the Supermarket" and "Spanish Bombs," you do get some great material that normally doesn't show up on hits sets.

To get a local perspective on the releases I talked to Chris Oplinger, who plays guitar in the local Clash tribute band Sandinistas!, and who I have known since high school. Chris was the kid in our high school class who bought a guitar, like so many teenage boys do. However, instead of setting it down after a couple of weeks Chris kept playing, and now he and his band perform a pretty amazing set of songs by Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Nicky "Topper" Headon. The rest of Sandinistas! consists of guitarist and singer Kevin McCrary, bassist and singer Eric Atwood, and drummer and singer Mike Watson.

Oplinger knows far more about The Clash than I ever will, so his reaction to the "Hits Back" package was particularly interesting. "As far as the sequence goes, I don't really understand using a live setlist, especially when one song is out of place and they add extras," said Oplinger. "The album could have been sequenced much better in my humble opinion if they had freed themselves from that restriction. It makes (the set) kind of disjointed. The show they picked wasn't any kind of landmark gig either, and it was Terry Chimes drumming, as was the case on the Shea Stadium release a coupe of years ago. It's kind of a dis to Topper who, when on his game, was much better than Chimes. I think the gig was chosen just for its setlist. What would have been nice is an unreleased live show from their heyday. There are good live recordings out there from which only a few songs have been released. How about a remastered Bonds Casino show or something?"

You see? I told you Chris knows his stuff.

I was also curious as to what made the Clash so important to Oplinger that he actually went out and got together a tribute band.

"What The Clash means to me is a harder question to answer," said Oplinger. "They kind of defined punk rock with their first two albums, then went on to prove that there were no boundaries to what punk rock could be with the next two."

I have to agree with Oplinger there. To me, that second part was what really drew me to The Clash. The band's willingness to experiment with other styles like dub, funk, reggae and such made the albums more than just punk rock records. Strummer was fearless when it came to mixing styles, and it you didn't like it you could sod off.

Anyway, Oplinger continued: "By "Combat Rock" they were in complete disarray as a band, but that album had some of their best and most original songs. What song before it ever sounded anything like "Straight to Hell?" Just when they could have become huge, they self-destructed. Their post-Clash stuff proves they were more than just a sum of their parts. Joe (Strummer) was one of the best lyricists out there too. His songs have a real sense of urgency, and his words conjure up vivid images and emotions. To me though, The Clash was more about their live performances than their studio work.  I never got a chance to see them, but I've listened to a ton of their live recordings. They were fearless live, never afraid to crash and burn or to completely change the arrangement or the words mid-song. Joe would taunt the audience, trying to get any kind of reaction. The show was more about having a unique experience than playing the songs well. Sandinistas! have tried to learn from this. Rather than aim for a perfect performance, we keep each other just enough off-balance to make the show interesting and spontaneous. When we screw up, we laugh it off or use the screw up to do something new with the song."

If that description of Sandinistas! has you ready to go check them out live, your next chance will be on September 28th at Art's Bar & Grill in Mt. Pleasant. Definitely check them out if you can. The live show is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The New Miserable Experience (Of Having To Suffer Through A Smash Mouth Concert)

While taking in the music from the various bands on the Under The Sun Tour last Friday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, there were a couple of thoughts going through my mind. First, and most importantly, I was a, make that a lot distressed that the music I had listened to and loved in my 20's was now being packaged as a sort of nostalgia tour.

Ask me the decade that formed my musical tastes, and it'll be a tie between the 80's and the 90's. In the 80's, when I was in my teens, I started listening earnestly to music on the radio, as most teens do. I started memorizing lyrics to songs that I liked, collecting albums, saw my first few concerts, and for the most part started on the path that led to me being a music writer. While I did get a bit experimental in the 80's, I was also a fan of the pre-packaged, synthesizer-leaden pop music of the era. Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club, Thompson Twins, Thomas Dolby and the like were included in my 45rpm record singles collection. But I was also a bit more adventurous, listening to the Smiths, R.E.M.,  and They Might Be Giants after reading about them in Rolling Stone and SPIN.

A stint in the army, living in Europe for a couple of years, and then working for an alternative rock radio station for a few years in the late 80's and early 90's widened my musical tastes even more. The 90's was a pretty remarkable time to be in the music business. We watched as hair metal died (okay, so it didn't die, but it went into deep hibernation for about a decade and a half) and was replaced by alternative rock, the rise of hip hop, and R&B. Working part time as an on-air personality at the late great 96 Wave, as well as at a couple of local record stores, I got a further schooling in bands that mattered. Acts that I had only heard in passing, such as Pavement, The Melvins, Camper Van Beethoven, The Replacements, and The Pixies were in rotation at the station and played over the store's stereo systems.

Then there were the bands that stuck closer to the more traditional idea of what rock and pop is. Bands such as Fastball, Vertical Horizon, The Gin Blossoms, Sugar Ray, and Smash Mouth ruled the roost in the mid to late 90's and into the new millennium, simply because they were a bit more safe than some of the grungier acts that permeated the 90's music culture. Those five bands were the very ones performing last Friday night at the Coliseum. A decent-sized crowd of about 3,000 came out to take in the package tour, and with five bands to blow through in roughly four hours, fans were assured of hearing just the hits from each act.

Fastball was first up. That band's 1998 album, "All The Pain Money Can Buy," has always been one that I could listen to from beginning to end, and with singles such as "The Way" and "Fire Escape," and "Out of My Head," it was evident there was some real songwriting talent among the band members. During its kickoff set, Fastball played those tunes and a few others, and even though folks were still trickling in and finding their seats, the band played like the place was full. Fastball didn't belong at the bottom of the roster, but I suppose someone had to be first. 

Vertical Horizon was up next, and to be honest I was only familiar with one of their songs, "Everything You Want." The band's performance was good though. Lead singer and guitarist Matt Scannell was a confident leader for the band, and he definitely had the rock star moves down. The Gin Blossoms' lead singer Robin Wilson came out to sing a song with Vertical Horizon, and throughout the evening different members of the various bands on the bill kept the cross-pollination going. 

The third band up was The Gin Blossoms, a band I had never had the chance to see live in its 90's heyday. That band's debut, 1992's "New Miserable Experience," spawned a wealth of singles like "Hey Jealousy," "Mrs. Rita," "Until I Fall Away," "Found Out About You," and "Allison Road." As a matter of fact, that debut was so god that it would soon become apparent that the band shot their creative wad completely on that first album. Wilson and the rest of the band did a great job of getting the crowd out of their seats, with Wilson almost constantly urging the crowd to get their "Hands up!" At one point he even hopped down into the photo pit to get closer to the crowd, giving his tambourine to Natalie Swanson, who was sitting in the front row. Just like the two bands before it, The Gin Blossoms was lively and musically on point. The band seemed genuinely humbled by the positive crowd reaction. A couple of members of Smash Mouth came out to play on a song or two with the band. 

Sugar Ray was next on the bill. I'd always had a love/hate relationship with that band. On the one hand, they put out what I consider to be some of the more brainless hit singles of the 90's. "Fly," "Every Morning," and "Someday" are just a few examples. With that said, every time I hear one of those insipid tunes it gets stuck in my head for a couple of days, so there's obviously some kind of perverse musical science going on there. Also in the band's favor is the fact that all of its members, especially lead singer Mark McGrath, seem to realize how lucky they are. McGrath, who also served as the evening's emcee, was all over the stage during Sugar Ray's set, cracking jokes, spitting out pop culture references with machine gun speed, and making sure even the folks way in the back of the Coliseum were having a god time. All the while, he had a look on his face that seemed to say, "Yeah, I can't believe we've made it this far either, but we'll ride this train until the wheels fall off." I found that kind of endearing, despite never having been a particularly big fan of the band. During the band's set I started to actually get a bit of respect for Sugar Ray. Then they had to go and cover The Violent Femmes' classic "Blister in the Sun," and that respect went right out the window. They could have picked any other song in the universe to cover, and it would have gone better than what transpired onstage Friday night. The Femmes should seriously think about issuing a cease and desist to make sure that crap never happens again. I didn't think the show could get any worse that that. Sadly, I was wrong, and this is where I come to that second thought of the night. 

Smash Mouth closed out the night as the headliners of the Under the Sun Tour. I'm not sure what was used to gauge which band was supposed to headline. Perhaps they went by how many of a particular band's songs have appeared on the soundtracks to popular movies. In that capacity, at least Smash Mouth's headlining slot became a bit more easy to swallow. I've never quite understood Smash Mouth's enduring popularity, but since I had never seen them live I decided to give the band a chance to redeem itself. To be fair, the musicians in the band seemed to be quite talented on their respective instruments. The real problem with Smash Mouth lay with its lead singer, Steve Harwell. On Smash Mouth studio singes such as "Walking On the Sun," "All Star," and "Can't Get Enough of You, Baby," Harwell's trademark raspy voice is in full effect. Apparently there is A LOT of studio magic going on, because in a live setting, that same voice was off-key and annoying from the start. The guy sounded like a cat in heat with laryngitis. I tried to like the band's performance; lord knows I did, but even with a group of competent musicians behind him, Harwell turned in one of the worst performances I've seen in ages. From off-key renditions of its biggest hits, to annoyingly loud punk-rock wannabe tunes, to a horrible cover of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," Smash Mouth's top spot on the bill was a real letdown. "I had to leave. My ears were hurting," a friend told me through Facebook the next day. I stayed until the end in the interest of journalism, but it was tough to do so. I'm sure Smash Mouth doesn't care much about what I think. Every time a "Shrek" DVD is sold those guys are laughing all the way to the bank.    

Looking back, I can deal with the fact that the music of my youth has been tied up with a nice little bow and sent out on a package tour with a pat on the head. Twenty years from now, the youth of today will likely attend a nostalgia tour that features Robin Thicke, Katy Perry, fun, Justin Bieber, and Macklemore. If any of part of that as yet fictional package tour ever becomes reality, I'll feel a little bit better about having to suffer through Smash Mouth's set. A little, but not much...