For those of you just getting into them, or those who've never heard of this band, listen to the following songs first:

From the album "Deluxe":
From the album "Friction, Baby":
From the album "How does your garden grow?": This should give you a pretty good idea of where these guys are coming from, and will hopefully entice you to go and buy the CD's.

Whether from artistic disagreements or just a feeling that BTE was less than the financial success they wanted, Elektra Entertainment dropped BTE from their label.

They have a new album, called Artifakt, which you can only buy directly from them off their website (http://www.betterthanezra.com). The website is actually fairly sweet, since it is a rather decent multimedia site without resorting to high amounts of flash, and has all of the lyrics for the first 3 albums.

Better Than Ezra succeeds at being one of those groups that can muck about with loops and different kinds of sounds, and still be hauntingly poetic, and yet also fun.

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.

The source of their name: Band members went to Ithaca College. You know, that other college in the People's Municipality of Ithaca. The one that has cool people, a laid-back scene... The one's that's "Better than" the college founded by "Ezra"?

It's just a rumor, and a false one at that, but I like it anyway. Here at Cornell the Just about Music program house has a rock show most friday nights...and the bands and audience members are high school drop outs of students from I.C.

I've heard the radio releases - "Good", "Desperately Wanting", "At the Stars", "Extra Ordinary" - but oddly I never was really into BTE.

Then, an innocent remark from my girl friend (two words) made me download some MP3s. "Good," "Desperately Wanting," and "At the Stars" were the first to go. Then what?

Behold the wonderous powers of E2. cha0s' entry got me quality music, but dannye's entry sold me on BTE. A quick check of www.BetterThanEzra.com informed me that the band would be around in three days. Tickets were ordered. Friends were contacted. I ended up going alone.

The concert was held in the middle of China Town at a small cozy venue. I like it better that way. It's that possessive feeling you get for a band - you want them to succeed as musicians, but you don't want them to play bigger venues and larger crowds. You want to keep it small and intimate. And then they go and break your heart by whoring themselves to unartistic audiences everywhere. Sorry, I digress. But now I regress - outside waiting in line to see the show the people behind me were counting off BTE's "songs."

"They only have six songs," says one particularly ignorant bloke who stands wearing half-sleeves and shorts in thirty-degree weather as he counts off on his fingers: "There's 'Good,' 'Desperately Wanting,' 'Rosealia,' 'At the Stars,' 'King of New Orleans,' and 'Extra Ordinary.' Then the opener only has one song. I don't even know the name..."

"IN-FUCKING-CREDIBLE!" is what I said to Elaine - the first girl I ever "met" at a concert - after the opener's set. Strangely enough, she'd never heard of BTE. She came just to see Cowboy Mouth, who she'd followed through eleven shows! It's a rarity to see a good opener nowadays, as they no doubt end up headlining shows sooner or later. Irregardless (my favourite word), the Louisiana experience (Cowboy Mouth hails from New Orleans as well) was truly awesome - even alone.

Of course there were the 30-something jackasses who refused to budge during the opener while I continually shoved up against them, but still enough people in the audience were able to appreciate BOTH bands. I had the chance to meet Cowboy Mouth after their set, and was relieved to find them very amiable and down-to-earth - it's always a relief to find out that your musicians of choice aren't conceited bastards. Four autographs later and I'm back in the crowd. BTE's just finished Good after (I think) opening with "Misunderstood".

I must admit dannye's entry filled me with many unfair expectations (I'd only been listening to BTE for less than a week), but most were actually realized. Even buying the tickets, I noticed the website provided a SongRequest@BetterThanEzra.com link to help shape setlists for shows in your area. I foolishly requested At the Stars (unaware of Kevin Griffin's affinity for the song) whereas I should've asked for "One More Murder", which wasn't played. Ironically, after BTE's "songs" had been played (save "Desperately Wanting," which would close-out the set) BTE polled the audience for the next song - to no avail. There was no consensus, and the band ended up playing "Porcelain." The oversimplifier may have been right, but I tend not to think so conveniently.

Kevin Griffin was definitely an approachable frontman, though I sensed at times that he was developing the dangerous hauteur of a Stephan Jenkins. Travis McNabb rocked out on the drums, and Tom Drummond played the shit out of the bass. I was somewhat disappointed that Jim Payne & Co. didn't get the recognition they deserved for their hard work with background vocals, keyboards, and rhythm guitars - but I suppose its a three-piece band anyway.

To anyone who was unfortunate enough to stumble upon this nodelet, I hope that you leave with this important idea:

GO SEE A BETTER THAN EZRA CONCERT!!!

Better Than Ezra discography is as follows:

  1. Surprise (1990)
    1. Ezra Pound
    2. CDU
    3. Favorite Blanket
    4. Tremble
    5. Winter Coats
    6. Hold Me Down
    7. Rearranging the Bones
    8. And We're Fine
    9. Circle of Friends
    10. Bag of Cobras
    11. Burning the Map
    12. Devil Girl

  2. Deluxe (1995)
    1. In the Blood
    2. Good
    3. Southern Gurl
    4. The Killer Inside
    5. Rosealia
    6. Cry in the Sun
    7. Teenager
    8. Untitled
    9. Summerhouse
    10. Porcelain
    11. Heaven
    12. This Time of Year
    13. Coyote

  3. Friction, Baby (1996)
    1. King of New Orleans
    2. Rewind
    3. Long Lost
    4. Normal Town
    5. Scared, Are You?
    6. Return of the Postmoderns
    7. Hung the Moon
    8. Desperately Wanting
    9. Still Life with Cooley
    10. WWOZ
    11. Happy Endings
    12. Speeding Up to Slow Down
    13. At CH. Degaulle, etc.

  4. How does your garden grow? (1998)
    1. Je ne m'en Souviens pas
    2. One More Murder
    3. At The Stars
    4. Like It Like That
    5. Allison Foley
    6. Under You
    7. Live Again
    8. Happy Day MaMa
    9. Pull
    10. Particle
    11. Beautiful Mistake
    12. Everything in 2's
    13. New Kind Of Low/Coma
    14. Waxing or Waning?

  5. Artifakt (2001)
    1. Tremble
    2. Strange Funny Way
    3. Oh, Corrina
    4. Falling Apart
    5. Wallflower
    6. Use Me
    7. Rarely Spoken
    8. Silly Fool
    9. Wintercoats
    10. Mercy
    11. State Street State of Mind

  6. Closer (2001)
    1. Misunderstood
    2. Extra Ordinary
    3. Closer
    4. Rolling
    5. A Lifetime
    6. Recognize
    7. Sincerely, Me
    8. Get You In
    9. Briefly
    10. Juarez
    11. I Do

Better Than Ezra is on a big tour across the US. It started in July of 2001 and it looks like it's going to end sometime in August of 2002. That's a lot of rockin'.

I got the pleasure of seeing them at Slater Center at Purdue. The show was all ages and was free to anyone. The opening band was called Forever Texas and wasn't too bad at all. The night for the show as very nice. It wasn't too hot and it wasn't too cold. And there was a slight breeze. Almost perfect conditions for me.

After reading the previous BTE nodes, I came to realize that the theatrics stayed the same for other shows. Someone was chosen from the crowd to play the song This Time Of Year and also covers of songs such as Don't Fear The Reaper were mixed in with other songs of theirs. Of course at the time it didn't occur to me that these were normal things. It was really just a lot of fun, any way.

A lot of people left after the band played Desperately Wanting and they started getting off the stage. But of course, they came back with an encore. Which rocked everybody's socks off :)

In my opinion, Better Than Ezra is a great band to see in concert, if you can. The show is just all together fun. And if you're lucky and are close to the stage, you can probably snag a football or T-Shirt thrown into the crowd.

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