Show Review: OK Go with Earl Greyhound and Grand Lake at The Fillmore, 5/26/10

by Gordon Elgart on May 28, 2010

Tim Nordwind, Damian Kulash and Andy Ross of Ok Go

A rare moment without confetti

During OK Go’s show at The Fillmore in San Francisco on Wednesday night, lead singer Damian Kulash tried to explain why the band’s home is San Francisco. “Because we live on YouTube” was his explanation. Yeah, alright, whatever. But it’s clear what they meant was that the Bay Area is made to appreciate a label-leaving, DIY-video-making band of nerds like them. And this video thing is working out for them. One blog recently called them the “shtickiest band ever,” so what sort of shtick did they bring with them?

Opening the band was Oakland’s own Grand Lake who had their brand new album in tow. This is one of those local bands I’d yet to check out, although I’d heard their songs before. I found their set frustrating, because while I like their songs a lot, I don’t like the singer. As a songwriter, he rates an A, but as a singer a D. (My mother used to say this, and I think it applies, though: “just because you can write a great song doesn’t give you the right to sing it.”) I was told that they used to have a woman sing with them, and that she was better. I don’t know what the goals are for this project, but they absolutely have the songs and chops to make it happen.

Kamara Thomas Of Earl Greyhound

Kamara Thomas can really belt it out

Next up was Earl Greyhound, a band with which I have a bit of a history on this site. I was hoping that their live performance would sway me, and I even expected it. Instead, I found myself a bit bored. I knew they would play my favorite song of theirs, “S.O.S.,” which is a great song on record. I was surprised to find out that it didn’t rip it up live. The problem is one of space. For a song to truly rock, there needs to be space between the beats, some room for the riffs to breathe. It’s not there. Instead, it’s all a bit messy and noisy, and while each of the band members can really wail on their instruments (especially drummer Ricc Sheridan, who), together it fails to excite. I was also struck by how inappropriate the band seemed as openers — it wasn’t a great musical mix, and that probably contributed to my feelings about them.

What they do have in common with headliners OK Go is that they are also putting out their records themselves, telling the crowd that they can take home their new album for whatever price they name. That’s pretty cool, if you ask me, and they did seem to convert some of the audience into fans, so it seemed to be a success.

When the lights went down for OK Go, the band was preceded to the stage by two technical guys: one operated the video and the other operated the confetti cannon. Now at most shows, the confetti cannon is a bit of a rarity usually used as a late-in-the-set surprise. For OK Go, it was like a fifth member of the band. It was used first during their opening number, “Invincible,” and then another six times throughout the show, each time with a different color of confetti.

Damian Kulash of Ok Go

About 5% of the night's confetti

I talked about the whole shtick thing, and apart from just the confetti, there was more shtick to be had, some of it worked really well and other things were simply distracting. The absolute best bit, and the one truly memorable moment of the set, was when they played their first album single “What to Do,” accompanied only by hand bells. This one is easy to find on YouTube.

The less effective shtick occurred during the encore, when the band came out in the dark, with two fuzzy guitars, each equipped with laser pointers being used to shine in the faces of the crowd. Getting laser pointers shined in my eyes? Not fun. Tim Nordwind’s bass had a scrolling message board, and I would report on what it said (some odd science or pseudo-science), but I was too busy ducking out of the way of the lasers. (I’m tall.)

Overall, the set had much of the stuff you’d come to expect from an OK Go show: great harmonies, tight musicianship, a fair amount of singing along, but it also lacked some of what makes an OK Go show great. It was a bit late in the tour, and some of the songs lacked enthusiasm, as if they were running through the motions. Some songs, such as “A Milllion Ways” seemed a bit rushed, like it’s late in the tour, and they’re tired.

Unfortunately, the band allowed themselves to illustrate this. At one point in the show, they asked the crowd what they should play next. They would either play “a cover song by a great band, one that’s better than us” that they were excited about playing or “one of our own songs that we’ve stopped playing because we don’t like it and we’re tired of playing it.” The vote came down in favor of “You’re So Damn Hot,” which meant I was robbed of hearing one of my favorite bands play my favorite Pixies song, “Debaser.” (Here’s some advice for the audience: if the band seems excited about one choice, choose that one.) So what we ended up seeing was a band going through the motions of playing a song they don’t like. Why would anyone want to see that?

Still, OK Go is a good enough live band that they’re awfully entertaining, even on their off nights. I got to smile, sing along, bounce a lot, and hear almost the entirety of their newest album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, which, like most of their material, has a lot more life in person than it has on record. I can’t imagine anyone in the house was disappointed, but as a long-time fan, I know they can do more, and surely will next time.

You can catch OK Go in San Jose on June 25th.

OK Go setlist for 5/26/2010 at The Fillmore in San Francisco:

Invincible
Needing/Getting
A Million Ways
All Is Not Lost
I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe
White Knuckles
Oh Lately Its So Quiet
Good Idea at the Time
Here It Goes Again
What to Do (Bells)
Last Leaf (Damian solo acoustic)
Don’t Ask Me
Get Over It
Back From Kathmandu
You’re So Damn Hot (instead of Debaser)
This Too Shall Pass
—–
WTF
Skyscrapers
Do What You Want

——–

Photos by David Price

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Hanan June 1, 2010 at 7:24 pm

as a fellow SF based music blogger, I think you should re-evaluate Grand Lake, and, specifically their lead singer Caleb. maybe you couldn’t hear it through the ear plugs you were obviously wearing to protect your precious little ears, but he is one of the most badass frontmen I have ever witnessed and definitely in my top 5, locally speaking. their debut album is striking and powerful and if you consider yourself a music fan, you should check it out.

PS, this little crack is wildly misinformed,
“I was told that they used to have a woman sing with them, and that she was better. ”
they used to have another girl playing keys and she harmonized on, like, one song, and (I am sad to say), delivered with mediocrity, especially when compared to Grand Lake’s current sound.

Reply

Gordon Elgart June 1, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Why yes, I was wearing earplugs, as I do to every show, and have for years. That way, I still have enough hearing left to tell the difference between a weak live singer and a badass front-man.

(Visit hear.net to get your own made; it’ll be the best decision you’ve ever made if you’re a serious music fan.)

Great songs, though. I’ll give the band the benefit of the doubt, and say he had an off night. Were you there?

Thanks for the comment!

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Hanan June 7, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I was there.

I am a serious music fan, probably more than you are. I will never get ear plugs because I have integrity. I doubt the Ramones would want me wearing their shirt if I went to shows “protected” like some middle aged schmuck. if it’s too loud for you, you don’t belong there.

he was not having an off night. Grand Lake just breaks the mold you have probably accustomed yourself to. they are creative and passionate and their delivery of controlled chaos is some of the most impressive I’ve heard this side of Guided by Voices. or Pavement. I bet some snarky music journalist predecessors of yours claimed Malkmus delivered weakly too.

Reply

Gordon Elgart June 7, 2010 at 6:48 pm

You’re a serious music fan, so I’m sure you know Joey Ramone was a supporter of H.E.A.R., the San Francisco based non-profit that encourages the use of earplugs at concerts. So I think The Ramones would be OK with wearing their t-shirt along with some earplugs.

Listen, it’s cool. Go ahead and turn it up loud. When you’re deaf, or suffering tinnitus, just remember I told you so.

And if you want to know what I think of Pavement, try searching for them on the site. I’m not a fan of them or Guided By Voices, and I make no apologies for it.

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Hanan June 7, 2010 at 7:45 pm

what Joey Ramone did later in life is not relevant…I was making a case for punk aesthetic. I hope you’re enjoying your bland life…Pollard and Malkmus are g-ds and half the indie bands around today owe them monumentally. you might as well discount the fucking Beatles.

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David June 7, 2010 at 8:27 pm

It’s kind of a stretch to correlate Grand Lake to the Ramones and punk aesthetic.
I wont knock Grand Lake, I actually did enjoy them, however, if you want to talk about front men, I can honestly say that Caleb is ehh. I shoot bands professionally and Caleb is forgettable as a front man. Sorry, but he lacks the entire package, he may sound good but he lacks energy and stage presence. It’s not necessarily a negative thing there are tons of great bands that fall into that category. Sorry, but I don’t see what Joey Ramone has anything to do with Grand Lake.

As far as ear plugs go, you’re absolutely wrong Hanan, there is not a single professional musician that does not use in-ear monitors or custom ear filters! 15-25 bD plugs take everything down a notch to be able to hear everything clearer. custom molded ear plugs are like wearing sunglasses when you go outside. To belittle someone for wearing ear plugs is as ridiculous as making fun of someone for wearing sun-block. It’s just absurd and is laugh ble that you make that comment, it just makes you sound stupid. Jesus, I can’t believe your ear plug comment, it just makes you sound so ignorant and makes me wonder just really how much you “know” or think you know about music.

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Joel June 24, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I just reviewed Grand Lake for KSCU, coincidentally. http://joelshitshow.com/2010/06/23/grand-lake-blood-sea-dream/

I have lost a ton of hearing and wish I had worn more earplugs than I have during the past 15 years. That doesn’t make me old. It makes me deaf.

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