Back around 2005 or 2006, a band of young kids called Green River Ordinance was taking off in Funkytown. I heard about them constantly, and they even played a venue I owned on Berry Street -- but I consistently found myself tied up elsewhere when they were playing. Then these guys became a national, big label touring act. So on Sunday night I saw that they were playing a second night at one my favorite venues, the Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge, made sure to clear my calendar and drove over.
The Live Oak was packed, and all the tables and chairs had been moved out of the way. Standing room only, which was kind of disappointing but these guys are now a touring act and they draw a crowd. I can't say I blame the Live Oak for making room. The website didn't show an opening act, but we had John David Kent (formerly of Radish) opening up doing a kind of a country/folk kind of thing. Kent was entertaining, and very un-Radish like. He has a good voice, instrumentals were solid, and he has a nice folksy stage presence that the crowd seemed to dig.
The first thing I noticed about the Green River Ordinance stage is the lighting -- specifically, that it was done right. They had footlights to light the band from underneath, they had towers of lights behind the stage to backlight the band and light up the crowd. More bands need to do this, and throughout the show the lighting people resisted the goofy, gimmicky lighting that plagues most clubs these days. The band was lit well, and you could see what was going on.
In fact, the whole production was first-rate. The boys in the band were on pitch, harmonies were great, and the instrumentals were quite competent. These are hometown heroes who've made it big, they seem likeable and they donate to charities. The crowd loved them, and sang along to their songs. At one point, when they were having technical problems, they all jumped down and did an unplugged song in the middle of everyone. I love the chemistry, and I went in expecting to like the music. I really wanted to like the music.
But I couldn't.
The aesthetics were perfect, and it was sonically pleasant, but there was just no real musical substance. Everything was competent but uninspired and safe. There were no risks, no creativity, no real hook, and the groove (if there was one) was polished away. I stood there, song after song, waiting for some flash of brilliance, some connection that wasn't there. This is background pop, something that could be a soundtrack to a movie, but music is art and art should make you feel something. Green River Ordinance does not.
Eventually I noticed that all the songs blended together so I headed for the door. Green River Ordinance has seen a good deal of success, and they have worked hard for it. They have talent, and they are in a position to do something with it. I really wish they would.