OAR and the Jam-Pop Revolution
David Jackson
1/28/2007 8:06:19 PM

As a successful college rock band, O.A.R. (Of A Revolution) has inspired legions of followers since their 1997 debut record, The Wanderer. Now, a decade later, they're still going strong. Supporting a new record and touring their uniquely catchy, flexible take on alternative rock, O.A.R. delivered a fantastic performance at Chicago's UIC Pavilion on January 19th.

At around 8 PM, O.A.R. took the stage to the sound of the crowd impatiently chanting their name. The ravenous fans that poured into the Pavilion were in a good mood even before the band arrived and the lights went up. Just to make sure, however, O.A.R. kicked off the set with the upbeat single “Wonderful Day” from 2006's Stories Of A Stranger. The grin-inducing song brought the performance in on just the right note. They followed up soon after with “Heard the World” and some older tracks, and every song was cheered in, received as an old favorite. The entire amphitheater resounded with the friendliness and optimism of O.A.R.'s sound.

The truly impressive thing about watching O.A.R. live is the energetic professionalism of a band that's spent years fine-tuning its live act, and yet knows how to improvise on the spot. Every song was perfect note-for-note-- but not note-for-note off the record. O.A.R.'s live improv goes beyond just guitar riffs – virtually every member of the band gets a moment in the spotlight, treating the audience with solos from keyboards, saxophone and drums. Just as impressive were singer Marc Roberge's legendary vocal improvisations, ranging from scat syllables to freestyles verses throughout the show. The ability of the band to change songs as they play them is a testament to O.A.R.'s jam-rock soul, yet somehow, the tracks maintain the recognizable, catchy feel that they have on studio recordings. Seeing the band in concert is a reminder of how extraordinary their middle-of-the-road songwriting style really is: they balance the familiarity of pop “hooks” with open-ended jazz “licks”, and it sounds perfectly natural.

Probably the best example of this duality is O.A.R.'s signature song, “That Was A Crazy Game Of Poker”. Already a long song (the album version was over eight minutes long) it has been known to run in excess of eighteen minutes live to accommodate extensive soloing. At the Chicago show, they began with a lengthy, slow intro before launching into an epic about a night of cards, drinking, and apparently, revolution. It's easy to see why, after the first chorus, Roberge looked out at the crowd with a smile and said, “It never gets old.” For fans, there's another reason the song is special – a section in the middle references the band's name. At the Pavilion, as at every O.A.R. show, this section was turned over to the crowd, who called out, “I say, 'Of', You say, 'A', I say 'Revolution', you say 'Jah'.”

During their encore, O.A.R. played the slower jam, “City On Down”, then thanked the crowd and crew. Marc turned to his bandmates and said coyly, “How about... yeah. Let's play that one.” The lights went down and the opening riff of the band's breakout hit “Love and Memories” ignited the crowd into a craze of fist-pumping enthusiasm. Near the end, Marc expanded the bridge into a quick improv, reminding everyone that even its most pop-rock moments, O.A.R. always has been, and always will be ready to jam. Then the chorus hit one last time. The strobe lights flared. The pounding rhythm blasted from the speakers and the whole Pavilion shouted, “Drowning... LOVE AND MEMORIES!”

“Thankyoueverybody good night!”

O.A.R. has left the building.

Photo by David Jackson


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