Better than Ezra is primarily made up of Kevin Griffin who is the singer / songwriter / guitarist, Tom Drummond who plays the hell out of the bass, and Travis McNabb who plays the drums. They never mention Jim Payne very much on the albums, but he's been there playing guitar and keyboards and doing background vocals every time I've seen them play live.
The CDs are marvelous, and I couldn't tell you how many times I've turned Friction Baby up very, very loud. I've sent copies of this CD to friends of mine and talked others into buying it. The results were not always what I would have expected. A couple of very trusted friends have told me they really didn't enjoy it that much. This has led me to try and examine why this band means so much to me and not to others who usually are on the same musical wavelength with me. Is it because they didn't really hear the lyrics? (Kevin Griffin is, IMHO, one of the greatest lyricists writing today.) Is it a Southern thing? (They don't really sound like a Southern band to me. I think of Freebird and Sweet Home Alabama-type tripe when I think "Southern band.") I am sincerely befuddled about this lack of connection to what seems like rock music at its very best.
Perhaps it's because these folks have never seen BTE play live. I've seen them four times in the past couple of years, and I haven't seen a band have so much fun on stage since the Grateful Dead back in their heyday. And I sincerely believe these guys are high on music alone and not some other artificial substance.
The first time I heard this band was on the alternative radio station where I live. The song was King of New Orleans. I knew right then that this was a new approach to rock. When I heard the line, "Cat Stevens was the greatest singer," that cinched the deal. Now, when I go hear them play live, they will almost always open the show with "King of New Orleans." Coincidence? I think not.
In the live shows, Kevin will fiddle around with ways to make it fun for the audience. Once, he used a voice sampler and went out in the audience to get a handful of folks to record something into the little box. Then he incorporated loops of these folks' voices into one of the songs. This was at a Christian college where they were the only act on stage, and they opened the show with a Red Devil entering a darkened, red-lighted stage, lighting ominous-looking candelabrums while very spooky music played in the background. I'm sure that gave the admins a moment's pause.
Earlier on in the live shows, they were having dance contests on stage with three audience members trying to outdo each other on stage. That, of course, was ruined by MTV kids thinking stage = take your clothes off.
I saw them last night in an outdoor multi-stage event with a few thousand in the crowd, and during This Time of Year (where Tom always throws a foam football to the crowd during the line, "There's a football in the air...." You see, it's sorta like a Rocky Horror Picture Show deal.) Kevin quit playing and asked if there was anyone in the audience who knew how to play this song on the guitar. He made it perfectly clear that he would embarrass the hell out of any posers, and asked the wannabe's friends, "Now, you're sure he can play this song? You've heard him play this song before?" He weeded out three likely candidates and got his choice on stage, put his gold Les Paul guitar on this guy, and let him play. The guy was great: No attempt to do anything fancy, just following directions as to when to lay back and when to let it rip, and what could have been a nightmare turned into a wonderful experience for the audience and (I'm sure, moreso) for the anonymous guitarist.
The thing that Kevin does which impresses me the most is when he incorporates other songs by other folks into his songs. He can mimic several folks' vocal work. Last night, he threw in a couple of lines of Ride Wit Me by Nelly. He also worked in an imitation of Axl Rose singing I'm On Fire (Bruce Springsteen) which brought the house down. He will often work in Don't Fear the Reaper when doing In the Blood from Deluxe. I've seen him sit down at the keyboard and do Prince's 1999 and segue that into Lean on Me by Bill Withers.
I suppose the point is this: They are serious musicians playing serious stuff, but they don't take themselves too seriously. I love these guys. And knowing that riverrun enjoyed them in Hollywood just makes the pie that much sweeter.