Monday, March 17, 2003

O.A.R. latest shade of frathouse rock

Concert review

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In the early 1990s, a college fraternity was the grand house on campus if it could land the Samples to play its parking-lot party. The Colorado group's mix of reggae rhythms and poppy jam-band sensibilities earned them a devoted grassroots Greek-system base, and the Samples independently sold a boatload of CDs before a major label became involved.

O.A.R., who played Bogart's Friday night, is repeating the Samples' example. They have the frat-guy following and the generic reggae beat. And now O.A.R. (which stands for Of A Revolution) also has the big record deal.

Meet the new college craze. Same as the old one.

The show was the first of two back-to-back sold-out nights at the club for the band. Cincinnati represents a portion of the heart of O.A.R.'s fan base, because they call Columbus home. (They went to school at Ohio State University.) The crowd's fevered reaction and familiarity to the material were as strong as you'll see at Bogart's.

The band, which began in 1996 when its five members were high school students in suburban Washington, D.C., is readying its Lava Records debut for a release in late May. They played a couple of tunes from that forthcoming album, titled In Between Now and Then, but the two-hour set was mainly filled with sing-along concert staples like "That Was a Crazy Game of Poker," "About Mr. Brown" and "Anyway."

O.A.R. - singer Marc Roberge, guitarist Richard On, drummer Chris Culos, bassist Benj Gershman and saxophonist Jerry DePizzo - worked a slow-to-mid-tempo reggae-rock groove. Sometimes they sounded like the Dave Matthews Band, with DePizzo wailing away and the rest of the group toeing the line between pop and jam. But mostly they just sounded like the Samples.

Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume O.A.R.'s appreciation of reggae music runs deep. However, all we got from them was a steady beat plodding along beneath their catchy tunes and a couple of teasers of Bob Marley lyrics from the songs "No Woman No Cry" and "Trenchtown Rock." It seems to be a cash-making formula, but is it the stuff of a revolution? Probably not, considering they were beaten to the punch by a few years.


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