Ok Go has always been a band with an identity crisis. Are they pop stars who should be playing in front of thousands of screaming fans every night? Are they a mature alternative rock band that should be mentioned on every critic’s “best of” list? Are they music industry pioneers? Are they a group of guys with way too much time on their hands?
To some extent, all of these characterizations are true, and maybe that’s why they constantly appear to be on the brink of stardom, but haven’t quite achieved it yet. They seemed awfully close based on the size of the crowd at the House of Blues in Boston on May 7th. With fans packing the floor and wrapping around the upper balconies, Ok Go showcased their best material while fitting in a few laughs for good measure.
With the Red Sox at home and playing the Yankees across the street at Fenway Park, the night got off to a late start with opening sets from Robert Francis and Earl Greyhound. Neither band was very impressive, and in fact, Earl Greyhound’s improvisational jam sessions sent at least a few members of the audience streaming to the merch tables, balconies, or anywhere else they could find shelter.
Ok Go finally took the stage at 10 and easily made up for the sub-par openers with an hour and half set that was at times exuberant, at others introspective, and always entertaining. While they may be best known for their crazy videos, their musical chops are what help them stand out in a live setting like this, for every song sounded sharp and nearly CD quality while being pumped through the House of Blues sound system, which seemed to be dialed up to 11 on this night.
While the band did sample a host of songs from their first two records, the focus was certainly on their latest effort, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. The CD is without question one of the best alternative releases this year,and it’s a shame it hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Most in the crowd seemed only somewhat familiar with the new tracks, either politely bobbing their heads or staring blankly while the band ripped through gems like “All Is Not Lost” and “White Knuckles.”
This was my third Ok Go show, and each time the crowd has been disappointingly unenthusiastic. On this night, only a handful of fans bothered to sing or bounce along, despite the fact the music seems to lend itself perfectly to such behavior. There were exceptions, of course. Older favorites “Get Over It” and “Don’t Ask Me” both elicited welcome sing alongs.
During the middle of the set, lead singer Damian Kulash stepped down from the stage to perform “Last Leaf” while standing on a small box in the
middle of the venue. Surrounded by photo-snapping fans, Kulash expertly worked his way through the acoustic number that is one of Blue Colour’s standout tracks. The charismatic frontman also provided comedy-club quality quips throughout the set, chiding the Boston crowd for their accents, their nerd-like tenancies, and their general uncleanliness.
As they had on past tours, the band would attempt to cleanse the “filthy masses” by performing “What to Do” using only hand bells, or “the instrument that God himself invented,” according to Kulash. While it may not have achieved its stated goal, the performance still sounded great and was beyond amusing to watch.
Kulash would return to the floor to stir up the crowd during “This To Shall Pass.” The set closer, which has gained notoriety on the strength of its zany video, had the crowd bouncing up and down while belting out the final chorus. The quartet would leave the stage and then return for a three song encore which began with “WTF?” The band brought back to the stage a trio of tricked out guitars that shot laser beams into the crowd as they were being played. Coupled with their LED adorned jackets, Ok Go gave further proof to the fact that they have the always-useful combination of ambition and plenty of free time.
The show would come to an end with “Do What You Want.” It was a solid ending to tremendously impressive set from one of today’s most underrated rock bands. While they may not be able to inspire many huge sing-alongs or circle pits, their technical ability is second to none. In addition, Kulash has a knack for making everyone in the venue seem like an old friend, not to mention a very impressive vocal range. While their videos may be complex affairs, their rather straight forward live shows are where the real excitement is.
Ok Go Set List (I believe it’s accurate)
A Million Ways
All Is Not Lost
I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe
Oh Lately It’s So Quiet
A Good Idea at the Time
Here It Goes Again
What To Do (Handbells)
Get Over It
Don’t Ask Me
Back From Kathmandu
Debaser (Pixies cover)
This To Shall Pass
Do What You Want
Even if you don’t know Ok Go, chances are you know Ok Go. They’re “that treadmill band,” the one that got big based on the absurdity of their choreographed video for “Here It Goes Again,” which quickly became one of the most watched videos on the Internet when it was released in 2006. While they write catchy pop songs, their work has always been just a little too complex to gain any serious radio play, but this hasn’t stopped the band from becoming an act that can draw sell out crowds to clubs all across the country, as shown by their current national headlining run. Their two shows in Northhampton and Boston Mass. proved that fans can expect great things from their forthcoming record, but it also proved that there are some drawbacks that come with the fame the band has achieved.
Wednesday night saw the band play the Pearl Street Ballroom in Northhampton, a small college town in Western Mass. The openers Openhiemer and Longwave were greeted unenthusiastically by the crowd that packed the aging, VFW Hall-esqe venue. While Longwave is slated to support big name acts such as Bloc Party and the Presidents of the United States in the coming months, it was often difficult to distinguish one of their songs from the next, and the band did nothing to engage or interact with the crowd.
Ok Go, or more specifically lead singer Damien Kulash and bassist Tim Nordwind took the stage and started their set on a rather unusual note. Nordwind, sans base, hammered out a beat with two mallets on a large drum, while Kulash performed a new song with an acoustic guitar. Mid-song, the duo was joined by guitarist Andy Ross and drummer Dan Konopka, and the band transitioned into more familiar territory with “Get Over It” and “A Million Ways.” Between songs Kulash would joke with the crowd and talk about the band’s new record, creating a connection with the audience that neither of the openers had. Among the topics discussed by Kulash included an upcoming Woodstock movie he has a part in, an e-mail from a church choir hoping to perform the band’s songs, and the time the band has spent sequestered in the studio as of late.
The band would follow “A Million Ways” with two more new songs, which sounded very good but didn’t garner much of a reaction from those in attendance. The rest of the show would follow a similar pattern, with the band mixing almost equal parts new material with older material as a disappointingly quite and disinterested crowd stared on.
While it seemed like some in the crowd would rather be doing other things with their free time, it became apparent what the members of Ok Go had been doing with theirs. The band performed “What To Do” not as a full band or acoustically, but instead using hand bells, and not just one or two hand bells, but a collection so large a special velvet-draped table was needed to hold them. The band somehow managed not to break out in laughter during the song, but the crowd wasn’t so successful in containing theirs. It was obvious that if there were ever an award to be given to the band with the most free time on their hands, Ok Go would win in a landslide.
The band would finish their set with “A Good Idea at the Time” having played five new songs, thrown out multiple Ok Go tambourines, and shot off a confetti cannon twice. They returned for an encore and began with a new song that was heavy on bass and featured Kusash screaming “I couldn’t breathe” at the top of his lungs. “A Good Idea at the Time” was then played, and the band ended the show with “Invincible,” and a lot more confetti.
The next night the quartet would head east to Boston to play a show at the sold-out Paradise Rock Club. The band would perform the exact same set, displaying just as much energy as they had the night before. However, the crowd seemed even less interested this time around, if that’s possible. Many simply stood and stared at the band, even during their biggest hits, while those who were actually into the show stuck out like sore thumbs. The Paradise, for all it’s supposed charm, is a pretty terrible venue, with polls blocking what would be prime viewing locations and a staff that could be described as “unfriendly” at best. While these elements did detract somewhat from the show, it wasn’t hard to see just how good Ok Go is in a live setting. Most impressive was guitarist Andy Ross, who juggled a handful of different instruments, including an 18 string guitar and a large set of hanging bells. Overall, Ok Go certainly catered this tour to the band’s most dedicated fans, offering an extensive preview of their new record before a release date has even been confirmed. Those in the crowd who knew the band only from their treadmill antics seemed unimpressed, but for the trained ear, the band’s performance hinted at big things to come.
New Song (Shoot the Moon)
Get Over It
A Million Ways
New Song (White Knuckles)
New Song (I Want You Here)
Oh Lately It’s So Quiet
Don’t Ask Me
Here It Goes Again
What To Do
New Song (Damien solo)
It’s A Disaster
New Song (When The Morning Comes)
Do What You Want
New Song (I Couldn’t Breathe)
A Good Idea At The Time