Better Than Ezra
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14
Where: Arkansas State Fairgrounds, Smirnoff Ice stage
Cost: Free with fair admission
“At least we won’t have to hear the word, ‘Contraflow,’” Kevin Griffin said with a laugh.
Griffin, singer and songThe band was supporting its new CD, “Before the Robots” (Artemis), playing “Lifetime,” “ Our Last Night” and “Juicy,” the latter now better known as the soundtrack for ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” commercials. After the show, Griffin, Tom Drummond and Travis McNabb planned to enjoy a night off in New York City, but they changed plans once they got back to their hotel. “The guys flew into New Orleans but they weren’t allowed to go to their houses,” McNabb says by phone from Shreveport, where he joined his wife. The band members’ houses were essentially fine, though McNabb’s house took a little roof and water damage, and his wife’s men’s clothing store was looted. “We’re talking about stuff, not people, though,” McNabb says, “so it’s not that bad.”
The band is determined not to have “Before the Robots” suffer the fate of its previous studio album, “Closer,” released in August 2001. The post-9/11 stock market downturn cause BTE’s label, Beyond Music, to go bankrupt. The band returned to the road in late September after a few weeks to deal with the storm’s aftermath. “We’re lucky in a way; we get to go to work,” McNabb says.
That sort of practical outlook is part of the reason Better Than Ezra has outlasted many of its mid-’90s alternative rock peers. While the likes of the Toadies, Marcy Playground and Harvey Danger have broken up or returned to local hero stature in their respective cities, BTE has flourished musically, making consistent, catchy pop-rock albums. Part of the secret is that they don’t treat the business like something dirty not to be touched.
“One thing a lot of bands don’t realize is that you’ve got to have a good head on your shoulders as far as business goes,” Griffin said in New York. “If you’re not an astute businessperson — or you don’t surround yourself with management and agents who are really good — then that invariably destroys the music.”
The “Early Show” appearance is a good example. When given the option of playing electric or acoustic, BTE opted for the latter because of whom they might reach early on a Saturday morning. “Teen-agers are asleep; kids are watching cartoons,” Griffin figured. “Who’s watching the show? Thirty-and-up women, maybe moms making breakfast. Let’s not bang away at 7 in the morning.”
That audience is the band’s bread and butter, whether they discovered the BTE with “Closer” or 1995’s “Deluxe.” They sing along like Griffin’s telling their life stories in songs that have just enough detail to sound personal, but just enough left out that many can hear their lives in the song. It’s a skill he developed.
“I wasn’t very good at 20. I had to work and learn to become a better songIn “Lifetime,” for example, Griffin sings about friends celebrating the death of a friend on graduation day. He invokes an R.E.M. song to ground it in the real world, and the circumstance lends a misunderstood, tragic element to the story. If pop music makes being young seem dramatic, Griffin understands it as well as anybody.
Griffin’s songwriting has gotten more notice in recent years. He has been tapped by Meat Loaf, Cher and INXS to “It was really nice for me to be able to
Alex Rawls is music editor for Gambit Weekly in New Orleans.
At the Fair
Professional rodeo, 7:30 p.m. Thu-Fri., 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sat., Barton Coliseum, $9-$16 adults, $6-$13 children
The Ultimate Tribute to Elvis, 8 p.m. Sat., Smirnoff Ice Stage
Midway opens at noon each day, fair admission is $6 adults, $4 children, $5 parking.