It’s been almost 10 years since Better Than Ezra bum-rushed pop radio with the infectious hit single “Good,” off their major-label debut Deluxe, a song that helped the New Orleans-based trio ride the wave of alternative rock that dominated the airwaves at the time.
Critics quickly lumped BTE in the Third Eye Blind/Gin Blossoms category (fairly or not), and pundits predicted a short stay at the top. Naysayers boldly declared BTE would be gone as quickly as they arrived.
They were partially right.
BTE would never again recapture the radio-success of “Good” and the group’s three post-Deluxe releases have never reached the Soundscan numbers of their debut album. But while BTE’s stay at the top might have been short, they’ve managed to accomplish something few groups labeled as alt-rock have done: stay.
And thanks in part to BTE’s latest release, Closer, and the single “Extra Ordinary,” which gained heavy rotation over the summer on Top 40 radio formats, it appears Better Than Ezra isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But for a while, it looked like that might not be the case.
After Deluxe, which also featured the hit “In the Blood,” BTE released Friction Baby in mid-1996. “Desperately Wanting” and “King of New Orleans” were both radio-friendly singles, but only made ripples in the pop music pool compared to the cannonball delivered by “Good.” And with the alt-rock scene already beginning to fade, it appeared BTE would as well.
Then came How Does Your Garden Grow?, released in late 1998. Hailed by critics as the band’s best and most complete work to date, the lush landscape of How Does Your Garden Grow? was a commercial flop, despite a slew of potential singles. BTE saw lack of support from their label, Elektra, as the primary reason the disc bombed. The band saw the warning signs – poor sales, unsatisfactory promotion – and parted ways with Elektra, opting to sign with Beyond Records.
This summer BTE wedged their way back onto the mainstream scene with “Extra Ordinary,” a song that combines two of the band’s strongest qualities: humor and a penchant for catchy hooks. In fact, lead singer Kevin Griffin, quite tongue-in-cheek, points out in the song: “I got more hooks than Madonna’s got looks.”
But perhaps the greatest testament to BTE’s staying power is the band’s incessant touring schedule and fantastic live shows. The band consistently plays the Bay area three or four times a year, regularly filling small-to-medium-sized venues like Jannus Landing.
Don’t trick yourself, BTE is not reinventing the wheel, but seeing this band live puts a distinctively new, flavorful spin on their music. Most bands play for a paycheck; BTE does it for fun.
Griffin is masterful at bonding with the audience, making the crowd at BTE’s shows feel sometimes like they’re listening to a local group at a frathouse kegger.
BTE’s charismatic lead singer weaves seamlessly from the intimate (“Under You,” “Time of Year”) to the guitar-driven (“Good,” “Rosealia”) to the poignant (“At the Stars,” “Porcelain”) effortlessly. BTE appears to have as much fun entertaining as the audience does watching, giving the crowd the impression these guys would just as likely play for a few cases of beer (Abita, of course.)
And BTE doesn’t just run down their song list in mindless, rapid-fire style, instead preferring to mix in cover snippets of other songs to spice things up. Rather than simply plugging through “Good” (which BTE must feel like they’ve played a zillion times) or “Extra Ordinary,” the band will splice in, for example, Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” or Prince’s “Purple Rain” before wrapping up the initial song.
So with nearly a decade of playing together under their belts, a renewed level of radio play and a live show that will have audiences checking for their next stop in town, BTE has proven their detractors wrong by finding a formula that works.
Better Than Ezra and guests Cowboy Mouth will perform at the Special Events Center Monday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students, $12 for general public.
Contact Brandon Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org