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Andy Rathbun


City: Chicago
Venue: Fireside Bowl
Date: 2003-07-02
Striking rock-star poses under the red and green lights while screwing his face into an expression of stupefied amazement, Bleu concludes the opening number of his set, "I Won't Go Hollywood". His band stays in steady pace, smiling during what is surely a frequent routine. The song ends, but Bleu doesn't stop there. He turns to the crowd and offers a remark to which he will frequently return. "You know, I find what makes or breaks the show is what happens in between the songs," he says grinning. Well, he hit that nail right on the head. It's not entirely a bad thing, mind you. Bleu, thus dubbed for a college-era dye job (although his locks are now a natural brown), sings power pop. And, like every power pop band since 1994, draws tired comparisons to Weezer. Really, it's not accurate. The cautious sense of irony and careful blend of ego and self-deprecation stay absent from most of his songs. During breaks in his set, however, those traits do pleasantly bubble up. If anything, it's his playful cracks that hold the audience's attention. He runs through the general riffs, talking about the hot little venue, joking through mic troubles and overreacting when his guitar string breaks. All the while, he reminds the crowd that these travails make the show. "You're not even going to remember that incredible cover of "Shout" by Primal Scream," he notes, joking about a song that is, in truth, absent from his set. He continues, shaking his head at his broken string. "This is what you're going to remember." Unlike that weak string, Bleu has yet to break. The Boston-based rocker has major-label backing (his first LP was released through Columbia/Aware), but he's playing the Fireside Bowl, generally a stop made before a corporate payday. You see, the Fireside is a droopy, depressing venue set up in an old bowling alley; not exactly the type of digs someone like John Mayer (a label mate of Bleu) sets up shop. So what is he doing here? Simply put, Bleu hasn't sold thousands of albums yet. His often-generic tunes may have a harmless playability that attracts record deals, but for now, sporting his pork chop sized sideburns and emo-tight "Boston 1987 Tour" shirt, he caters to the indie kids. This lag time doesn't seem to bother him. Supported on most songs by guitarist Bill Guerra, whose falsetto backings serve as smooth marble columns of support, Bleu plays with a chugging sense of glee. Charming asides, meanwhile, make for sweetly ironic transitions from one song to the next. For instance, before he launches into the languid groove of "3's a Charm", he crushes his face into mock confusion, shrugging, "This one goes out to all the ladies?" Unfortunately, charisma only gets you so far. Eventually, there has to be something else, a message or observation to separate a group from its supersaturated scene. And while Bleu seems to have plenty of quips, he stumbles to find the right words in his pop songs. For an apt example, look no further than the ballad immediately following his "ladies" remark. The song, which steadily winds through a recovering relationship, begins with a gripe about an answering machine message. Bleu sings, "I couldn't help but hope that it was you / It turned out to be my mom but it was good to hear that Southern drawl / that's love / fits like a glove." No, that's not love. That's comedy. Worse still, on "Feet Don't Fail", he observes, "I don't even care if I know your name / We can make romance." It's a trite line, solely remarkable for its staleness. Now granted, plenty of bands write bad lyrics; they just often mask them with unintelligible enunciation. Bleu's clear, effective voice relates his message too well. Thus, the mediocrity of his words stands more starkly than groups that choose to mumble and growl their way through banality. So yes, Bleu plays well. His energy is clear, his band is fine, and his confidence is remarkable. But does that make Bleu himself any good? "It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious," wrote Oscar Wilde. Okay, fair enough: Bleu is charming. He could, however, benefit from a speech impediment.

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