Photos by Brandon K. Hernsberger
Better than Ezra sounds like biscuits look after being popped from a can in your grandma's kitchen the Sunday after Halloween, belly full of candy. Like junior high - or more like high school (post-acne) - they're an Ansel Adams painting hung on the wall of your hotel room after prom. So click your Apple IIg on sepia and, in your best Zack Morris voice, say, "do the Bartman." These are the pop-up video days of our lives.
That was the general feeling Saturday night as the New Orleans natives brought their "remember that time by the lockers, when you said to me..." act to House of Blues. In front of a sold-out crowd - some dude was trying to scalp a ticket for $120; product of the 80s, most likely. I blame the Cold War - Better than Ezra had us all feeling like there's no such thing as stress, which is what sentimentality does, I suppose.
And Better than Ezra does it (ahem) better than most mid-90s bands who made a living off the success of one very sing-alongable song. I'm talking to you, Hootie.
Waiting outside the venue for the show to begin, there seemed to be a consensus like "the show is sold out
? Better than Ezra"? It's a weird thing to think about, really - a band with only marginal success at its peak can sustain a constant following of cult-like consumers (they call themselves Ezralites, and they were ubiquitous) ready to gobble up even the most obscure and hard-to-find piece of musical muscle memory.
The way Better than Ezra has prospered is pretty simple, when you think about it: the band sings about time, but not in the smarty-pants "What is time, is time time?" kind of way most artists use these days. Ezra so constructs a pathos of youthful simplicity that every single one of its songs can be felt alongside a very specific and highly relatable moment in your life, and in everyone's lives. Its songs are unburdened by artful intellectual posturing, and it was clear that fans deeply appreciate that.
It's not common, that's for sure. Better than Ezra can sing joy.
The songs ranged from old to new to the obligatory short cover of Britney Spears; and it was hard to make out which songs the crowd liked best, because it was almost as if 90 percent of the audience knew every word to every song. It was kind of amazing to witness, and made one hopeful for the future of humanity, if you want to know the truth. Sort of a "Why can't we all get along?" brought to life for an hour an a half where high-fiving the stranger next to you just because "Extra Ordinary" reminds you both of skipping fifth period Biology to hide under the stadium to smoke your dad's non-filtered Kools.
It was a breathtaking thing to be a part of. The opening song, "Turn Up the Bright Lights," from Better than Ezra's newest record Paper Empire
, got the crowd properly excited for what came next, breakthrough single, "Good," where even the roboty "yeah that's right" bit at the end couldn't be heard because the crowd was so raucously loud - nostalgia transcends, dig?
It's hard to fully explain how forceful these songs were Saturday without sounding overly hokey - but really, they turned the sold-out House of Blues audience into a homogenous mass of mirthful animation in a way you almost never see in these the days of fetishized indifference. "Absolutely Still," "King of New Orleans," "A Lifetime," "Misunderstood" and "Sincerely, Me" were, if I had to choose, the highlights; but I don't want to choose.
The whole show was moving in the way a new moon is moving, a meditation on who you used to be and hope to be again, with the help of a hootenanny.
What's the color of 90s-era weeping, I wonder? Plaid, probably.