So, yeah, I couldn’t stand it any more, I had to go see what all the fuss was about. Dannye’s been driving me crazy (hmmm) with his Better Than Ezra raves, and seeing as how I usually agree with him on music, and seeing as how they were in town to play The Tonight Show, and since they were doing two shows at The Roxy, the venerable club on Sunset next door to The Rainbow, I heaved myself down there last night to check 'em out.

Damned if Better Than Ezra ain’t Better Than Most Everybody. What a pleasant surprise. Unless, of course, you don’t like rock n roll.

The crowd was a bit younger than the one I travel with, but then most are. I found myself wondering how they could afford the admission and the two drink minimum, indeed, if they could even legally enjoy the two drink minimum. I probably should get out more.

They had a little girl singer open for them, Michelle Branch, and she came on and did her thing, evidencing a pretty-new-at-this sense of showmanship. "Geez, it’s hot in here!" as she doffed her black leather jacket on an eighty degree night. About a dozen "you guys are great"(s) (which, of course, we already knew). People were polite, but it was clear nobody was there to see her. Nobody was there to see Carly Simon the night she opened at the Troubadour for Harry Chapin either, about a zillion years ago. Michelle Branch is no Carly Simon, Chrissy Hynde or Pat Benatar, for that matter. A pretty girl whose promo materials don’t capture the attractive weight-loss she’s enjoyed on tour so far.

The size of the house doubled in the forty-five minutes between acts. The glitterati wound itself into the roped-off area. Taller. Blonder. Better-dressed. We were forty feet from the stage and I decided to go make room for more beer, which entails a walk through the crowd and past the stage, house-left.

I hadn’t been in that photo-lined hallway in a long time. Lotta good shows at the Roxy over the years. I bet nobody in the crowd even knew who Lou Adler is. Built the place so he and his buddies like Jack Nicholson could meet girls upstairs. Produced The Mamas and the Papas. Carole King. Introduced Janis Ian and Jimi Hendrix to America in Monterey Pop. I wondered if he still came to shows there, now that they’d taken all the tables and chairs out so the size of the venue could triple.

Mens’ room was full of cigarette smoke. Just cigarette smoke. Times change.

Back in the house I decided, what the heck, I’ll stand down front. The sound wasn’t good for Michelle back where we were, in the Geriatric Gallery for the already-hearing-impaired. That was OK with madame. She’d made friends with a couple from Riverside, a long drive home, drunk, after midnight.

Lotsa light checks. Fairly elaborate deal there, which was a good sign. Somebody was spending some money on these guys.

The lights went down and BTE (I’m a fan now; I can use their initials) hit the stage to a lot of applause. I mean A LOT of applause. This was their crowd on the coast, no doubt about that.

They opened with Extra Ordinary, a cut from their new album, Closer, which hit the stores yesterday. This is a good sign. New material—and the balls to play it live—is the life blood of a band that’s gonna go the distance.

I got a little bit of hope
Like a soap on a rope
Sweeter than sour
But getting thinner by the hour
Falling fast, and I'm running out of gas

Muggin on your sister!
Smart as Bobby Fischer!

And it is as clear to me as can be by the first chorus—these guys have got it all. They can play, basically a trio—bass, lead guitar, and drums, (though there's a second guitarist who doubles on keyboards); they can write; and their ace in the hole is Kevin Griffin, the singer/writer/guitarist, cause he is drop-dead movie-star gorgeous.

(Con fuego, baby ...)

All I want to do
Is stay till early in the morning
(You know I love you baby)
And all I've got to say, yeah
Is your love's extra ordinary
You're extra ordinary, baby

Next up was another new song, Misunderstood, which followed a little intro by Kevin describing his "actress" girlfriend, from when he used to live in L.A.. The song’s hilarious, and I’m really loving Kevin now, cause if you can keep your sense of humor when you wake up next to a maniac, well, it bodes well for your career.

Everybody wants to be a part
Everybody loves a situation
Who would ever want to play the part
Of anonymous numbers on a governmental chart

She's waiting tables the next day
She pulls a double then on her way
To an audition in Hollywood, yeah,
A little misunderstood
I get a flash, along about now: This kid Kevin's got great moves. Very comfortable in his body. Theatrical. He reminded me of David Bowie in his prime, acting as well as singing and playing guitar. A rare thing on a rock n roll stage.

Tom Drummond, the bass player, is cool. Like your best buddy, you know? The guy you really really like to hang with? Self-effacing, a little chubby. Cute. He lays back, playing some wicked runs, letting Kevin and the lyric shine.

Drummer Travis McNabb is quiet. Sitting secure inside that beat, like the best of the rock drummers I've seen. It's hard to believe, just like it was with Hendrix, with Cream, that so much music can come out of three guys.

And to be fair, they do have some help. Old double-trouble Jim Payne in the back there, laying low, all night long it turned out. Steady rhythm guitar and keyboard. Background vocals.

A couple of tunes dannye had told me to listen to beforehand come up: King of New Orleans and Allison Foley. King of New Orleans has a lot of rhythmic changes and really shows off the band. It’s about one of those guys, a blessed fool, to my mind, gettin’ by barely, however he can:

Then it kicks your head in.
Just give him one more chance,
try to see the beauty in his world.
All the way in on my hands, in on my feet,
and shoulders. Going to make twenty dollars
before the weekend's over.

So set him up,
Then let him fall.
Turn him over in your hands.
God save the King of New Orleans.

And in the middle of this wonderful song, they seque to Debra, Beck’s tune from Midnight Vultures. It was so cool. So incredibly cool.

Allison Foley is probably the last lyric I’ll quote here, because I know you’re all gonna go out and buy Better Than Ezra tonight, but I include it because I have to say it again, Kevin Griffin can write. This isn’t a song, it’s a novel:

"Calmly, like a razor,
I got us on the door,"
Or "I got a tape of 'CLERKS'
Someone left the night before."

So I go over later,
You're sitting in that chair
Smoking on your cigarette
Fingering your hair.

So I get drunk and stoned,
Every time you come around.

Twenty-nine and aimless
You bartend down on fourth.
Your parents pay insurance
And the Parson's Audit Course

Over-schooled and uninspired
A trust fund up your nose.
All that wasted talent but, uh
Ain't that how it always goes?

So I get drunk and stoned,
Every time you come around.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

So long Allison Foley
So long, bye-bye.

(Come up higher, take a step higher)
Sometimes you understand
The reasons how you went astray
But least of all the answer,
That it hurts to watch you waste away.

So I get drunk and stoned,
Every time you come around.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

So long, Allison Foley
So long, bye-bye.

Hit songs—or songs that ought to be hits—just kept coming out, interspersed with ad-libbed patter and just plain fun, goddammit, all night long.

All right, so they’re a buncha white boys from Baton Rouge singing songs with melodies and lyrics for a change. Shoot me, but that’s rock n roll the way I remember it.

They played:

At the Stars, Briefly, and Good, and then a major feel-good tune with a dark underbelly called Rosealia, interspersed with James’ tune Laid, which is apparently something they like to do—segue into other familiar, or inspired-by songs. Rolling, This Time of Year, with a long-haired girl named Nico taken from the audience jamming on Kevin’s guitar. A sweet moment. Live Again, and I Wanna Be Sedated segueing into Sincerely, Me and Desperately Wanting

Followed by a beautiful encore of three tunes:

Recognize, A Lifetime, and In the Blood.

And at exactly the point in the last song when I said to myself isn’t that…? they transitioned into Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper.

It made me wanna cry, cause these guys’ve got ROOTS and they’re proud to let them show.

So there it is: A real rock n roll band that can shake the house down. Don’t miss ‘em live, cause this tour to support Closer is just getting started.

And oh yes, two other things: If you’ve read dannye’s write-up, you know how they always throw out a football during This Time of Year? Well Kevin threw it to me. I’d've had to be drunk, stoned and blind to have missed it. I didn’t know what the unh… on this kind of deal, so I sorta lateralled it off to my right, but I had to laugh: I guess I musta been a pretty goofy target in the middle of all those kids, dancing my ass off.

The second thing was, there was a girl in front of me, a tall and curvy brunette who was better than Better Than Ezra.

And I didn’t even care. That’s rock n roll.

Grade school was an experience for me. And I mean that in the worst possible way. Like most people who grew up to be computer geeks, I had an unfortunate childhood, replete with classmates who taunted me just because they knew it would get a rise out of me. Every classroom, it seems, needs one boy to be the foil for all their pent-up nastiness. I was it.

I don't explain this out of self-pity, mind you -- I'm twenty-six now, and I've long since moved past those years. It's simply the way things were. I was never that competent at sports to begin with, and the fact that no one at recess really wanted me on their team to begin with made it worse. To this day, I still don't know how to contribute to a basketball team with any degree of, well, teamwork. I just never actually learned. You'd be surprised how many things need to be taught to you while you're still young.

But I was determined not to let them grind me down, so regardless of their attitudes I worked my way into every softball, four square, kickball, soccer and football game that they played at recess. It was a parochial school, and my particular grade was comparatively large with about sixteen boys and girls combined, and that made it easier. I was picked last every time, of course. It stopped bothering me sometime around third grade.

It was in sixth grade when "the catch" happened. I had to pick up the rules to American football from the games I played, since I didn't care to watch NFL games on television and asking any of my peers to explain them was out of the question. Someone shouted "Hike!", the other team counted to five, and the guy with the ball had that long to either run with the ball or throw it to someone else. My objective was to be one of those someone elses, which is easier said than done when you're gifted with the hand-eye coordination of a blind cave snake. My teammates knew what a lousy catch I was. Every once in a while, though, I got a chance to try, if only because the opposing team also knew what a lousy catch I was.

It was a perfect sunny day early in spring. Our class was being visited by a small group of kids from some other school, and we were all playing football together on the field. Someone said "Hike!", I ran dutifully toward the fence that represented our end zone, and made ready to catch. The ball was thrown to someone else on my team, who tipped it up into the air instead of landing the catch himself. It tumbled through the air toward me. I put my arms out. It landed right in the middle of them.

I had just scored a miraculous touchdown for our team.

I was in shock, really. But my team immediately started cheering and shouting and applauding. I stood where I was, looking around, taking it all in. The boys who had always laughed, mocked, hit, and derided me were now slapping me on the shoulder and congratulating me. It was amazing, my very first fifteen minutes of fame. I glowed inside for the rest of the day. I couldn't wait to tell my parents when I got home what had happened at recess that afternoon, it was so wonderful. For just a few minutes, I was the most popular kid in the class.

The next day everything was back to normal, of course. Except for me. Even though I never caught the football like that again, I still kept ahold of a little bit of that inward glow. For just one tiny part of the school day, I had been just as cool as everyone else.

For an eleven-year-old, nothing in the world could have been better.

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