These days, listening to music (much less writing about it) often feels a bit like cramming for a midterm. Is this new artist just spewing shitty noise? Or is it a conscious effort to subvert the conventions of a moribund genre? Does Artist X see himself as a bluegrass Sonic Youth or Husker Du by way of Gillian Welch? THESE THINGS MATTER (apparently)! And with new artists popping every day from all over the world and every corner of the blogosphere and neo subgenres emerging and dying off faster than you can say “chillwave,” just becoming relatively conversant in the “new” can be an exhausting affair. Now this process can certainly be rewarding (and its not like anyone is forcing me to listen or study), revealing new musicians and styles, but separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff is no easy task….and sometimes you just need a break. And, for me, that’s where O.A.R. fits in.
I first heard O.A.R. in 2005 on a road trip to Bonnaroo, originally (repeatedly) in the RV on the way down and later at the festival itself. Like most Bonnaroo artists of that period, they were undoubtedly a “jam band” (something that my self consciously “indie” soul rebelled against) but, while so many of their crunchy brethren left me cold, something about O.A.R. really struck a personal chord. Their music, particularly their relentlessly positive live performances, perfectly encapsulated the mellow, laid back atmosphere of that first run down to Bonnaroo. Even today, hearing the intro to “Crazy Game of Poker” instantly evokes fond memories of that adventure as well as all of the subsequent barbecues, road trips, and house parties that their music has accompanied.
So it was with great anticipation that I headed over to catch O.A.R. on the last evening of their four show homecoming at 9:30 Club. I brought with me only the essentials: good friends, a mellow buzz, a slightly disgruntled cameraman, and no study guide - and, as expected, O.A.R. gave us all a hell of a show. Since 2005, they’ve certainly gotten more popular, playing sold out shows around the world at ever bigger venues, but they exude the same sense of positivity and joy that they did at that Bonnaroo tent (or was it This Tent?). If anything they have become better showmen since then, feeding off of the energy of the sold out crowd and building the momentum of their set from deeper cuts and new material towards hits like “Hey Girl,” “Shattered,” “Love and Memories,” “Black Rock,” and of course, closing with “Poker.”
Watching the show, it was obvious that success hasn’t spoiled O.A.R. They clearly still love what they do and they have a genuine affection for their hometown fans and the 9:30 Club. Me, I was just glad to hang out with my friends and enjoy a sweet evening of recess, O.A.R. style.