It’s a sold-out show on a Wednesday night here at The Parish on Austin’s famed East Sixth Street, where Brooklyn power trio Earl Greyhound open the show for LA by way of Chicago power pop rockers OK Go. There’s a decent sized crowd on hand for the opener’s set at the 10 p.m. hour, but the band seems to be fighting an uphill battle in the early going.
OK Go specialize in a catchy pop-rock flavor, whereas Earl Greyhound are bringing a decidedly bluesier and harder edged sound to the stage. The power trio has a relatively unique vibe with all three members offering a distinctively different persona. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Whyte has the longhaired rock cowboy look down, and his heavy riffs are lean and mean. Bassist/vocalist Kamara Thomas looks like a soul queen straight out of a ’70s blaxploitation flick, but she lays down a mean low end. Drummer Ricc Sheridan looks like one of the gang warlords from the cult film The Warriors, which means he looks like a serious badass, and he plays drums like it too.
The first few tunes are solid, if unspectacular. “Ghost and the Witness” has a bit of Zeppish, Wolfmother flavor but this crowd is still not really moved. But then Thomas steps up for the lead vocal on “Shotgun”, one of the best tunes from the band’s new Suspicious Package LP, and the dynamic changes. This infectious, hard rocking tune sounds like it could be a lost classic from the early ’90s alt-grunge era and Thomas delivers a mesmerizing vocal. Whyte’s chords take on a deeper flavor, while Sheridan lays down a heavy beat. The trio rocks out deep on this tune, showing they are not just another opening band. The crowd responds with big applause, having finally been won over. “Shotgun” is not just one of the best tunes on the album, it’s one of the best new tunes this reporter has heard all year.
At one point, Whyte says that Earl Greyhound and OK Go are both proud to have released new albums without a major label, hinting at the continuing chaos that is the 21st century music business. Another major highlight occurs toward the end of the set with “Oye Vaya”, a high-energy rocker where Whyte and Thomas trade Robert Plant-style vocals. There’s a big jam on the ending, where all three go Cream-style crazy on their instruments. It seems like the climactic tune will close the set, but by then the band has won over the crowd and delivers one more big rocker. The set started off tentative but has ended triumphantly.
OK Go hits the stage shortly thereafter and wastes no time getting the party started by blasting wide red confetti out into the crowd, instantly conjuring a festive vibe. The confetti is used at several times throughout the set, and never fails to crank up the party. The band’s catchy melodic sound grips the crowd from start to finish. But that sound is enhanced by the highly personable charm of lead singer/guitarist Damian Kulash, who seems like a natural born performer. Kulash entertains the audience with witty banter throughout the set, displaying a friendly and unpretentious tone that just makes him plain likeable. Upon receiving an impromptu wedding proposal from a lady up front, Kulash remarks that it’s not a very romantic way to propose and that the young lady should have done something like get him a special Lego set and put the ring inside one of the Legos.
Kulash also announces that every show on the tour will be available on a USB drive after the show, or for digital download later. This is a move usually only utilized in the jam rock scene, but which really should be used by any serious touring band. It’s another feather in the band’s hat. At another juncture, Kulash declares his affection for Austin, but mockingly chides the town because no bats could be seen departing the Congress Street Bridge earlier in the evening (a world-renowned event that takes place on most summer evenings in Austin). He asks the crowd to act like bats during the opening of the next song, and everyone flaps their hands like bats.
But the witty charm wouldn’t be worth much without some musical talent, and Kulash has plenty of that too. His vocals at times recall influences such as Ray Davies of The Kinks, David Byrne, David Bowie and even Prince. While Kulash seems like he’s clearly the one that makes OK Go go, he’s also backed by an able band. Bassist Tim Nordwind holds down a groovy low end, and also serves as a foil for Kulash’s witty banter. Drummer Dan Konopka is rock solid, while lead guitarist/synthman Andy Ross adds excellent musical embellishments throughout the show.
Some people probably only know OK Go from their creative videos, which have garnered the band much acclaim and record-setting views on YouTube. But this isn’t a gimmick band. Kulash and company dish out one crowd pleasing rocker after another, combining indie rock sensibilities with power pop hooks and arena rock flair. “You’re So Damn Hot” goes over particularly well, with an up-tempo beat and melodic synths that recall The Cars at their best. It must also be noted that there were many ladies in the audience who could fit the song’s description. Kulash engages the audience to sing along on “This Too Shall Pass”, an anthemic rocker that gets the entire room involved.
The band goes over the top for the encore when they return to the stage sporting guitars with laser beams coming out of the headstocks. It looks pretty damn cool, and it’s surprising no one else has thought of this yet. It’s another example of the high level of creativity that makes it look like OK Go is just entering their prime.