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Ezra's Redeeming Qualities

Better Than Ezra live at the Edge was better than BTZ on the radio

By Bernice Yeung

Better Than Ezra has redeeming qualities after all. It's easy to dismiss the band as pretty-boy radio whores, but its June 18 show at the Edge in Palo Alto, which attracted 500 to 600 post-Greek system party types on a night when U2 was in town, proved that the group does possess some depth.

Sure, Better Than Ezra writes cheesy yet catchy rock songs that arrest the ear of every radio listener ("Good" dominated Billboard's Modern Rock chart for seven weeks in 1995), but what can't be gleaned from frequent airplay or hourly rotations of its video, is that Better Than Ezra actually has some charm and charisma.

After a wonderfully raucous performance by Ednaswap, Better Than Ezra vocalist/guitarist Kevin Griffin introduced the group in a fake British accent. "Who is this band, Better Than Ezra?" he asked mockingly. The antics continued throughout with a Chuck Woollery impression ("We'll be back in two and two" hand gestures), moonwalking, coquettish hip swings and animated facial expressions.

Songs were preceded by choruses from "Bizarre Love Triangle" (yes, with guitar-created techno beat) and Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman" (Griffin did not butcher the lyrics). Even Griffin's wide-eyed and wide-mouthed singing was amusing, and he often employed a flat, whiny delivery, as if to mock the glossy mixed versions of the songs played too often on the radio.

While Griffin flirted with the audience, drummer Travis McNabb and bassist Tom Drummond sculpted walls of solid groove, making the band more of a rhythm-rock band than a guitar-rock band, as some have dubbed Ezra in the past.

McNabb, nabbed from the mediocre alterna-rock band Beggars, pounded out beats tighter than a hand-knit sweater. Meanwhile Drummond, who looked and played like a heavy-metal headbanger, deftly yanked his bass strings.

The set was packed with chart climbers and familiar sing-along choruses. And though "Good" and "King of New Orleans" were played early, the middle section of the program was a monotonous snoozer of similar drum beats and overly impassioned singing.

Not until the second-to-last song, "Rosealia," did the band really rock. The energy was visible in McNabb's athletic drumming and cymbal thrashing and in Drummond's bouncing bassline. The rush was contagious, and unlikely crowd surfers in Dockers rode on waves of hands. Adrenaline carried the band through "In the Blood" and a two-song encore.

Now I know: Better Than Ezra live is better than the Better Than Ezra on the radio.

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