[live review] Better Than Ezra @ the Paradise, more than just 'Good'

Fifteen years ago, Better Than Ezra took over the modern rock airwaves with “Good,” a number one song that still defines them to most people with its bouncy beat and annoying “oh-wah-ah” refrain.

“Well, not everybody thinks that,” says bassist Tom Drummond before the band’s show at the Paradise last week. “’Cause we’re sold out tonight, we sold out last night, we’re sold out tomorrow [Philadelphia] and in New York, so…”

Any passing casual music fan who noticed the “sold out” tag on The Dise marquee probably did a double take, because no one-hit wonder -- it doesn’t matter how big the song -- is still going to be packing venues a decade and a half later.

The truth is, Better Than Ezra have had more than 10 tracks land on the charts since “Good.” Recent songs have been covered by Taylor Swift, placed in ads for restaurant chains and in some of the most popular dramas on television. The seemingly out-of-place inclusion of “So Alive” on last year’s Love and Rockets tribute garnered the highest praise. The New Orleans Saints flew the group to its Super Bowl victory party in January to perform.

“Lady Antebellum is talking about doing “I Just Knew” from our last album,” says singer/guitarist Kevin Griffin. “I think that the songs have just proven themselves over time, and we’ve never been a hipster’s band or a critic’s band but we’re a great live band.”

Griffin has also been writing hits for the likes of Sugarland, Train and Howie Day. He’s become a songwriting machine, and what it comes down to is his ability to craft not only catchy pop songs, but ones that resonate on a deep level with people.

“Desperately Wanting,” “Juicy,” “King of New Orleans” and “A Lifetime” all received significant airplay – some still do, and all of them landed in a setlist Thursday that had the crowd going from the outset, with an energy level that never dipped.

It’s been like this for years now. A bartender at The Paradise remarked at how shocked she was to have seen dozens of fans lined up in the cold, hours before doors opened. But it’s those people who are in the know; they get it while quite honestly others are missing out.

“The people that don’t like us because we’re the “Good” band never liked us anyway,” said Griffin. “They never bought our albums anyway; they never came to our shows. Come to a show, give us a chance and you’ll probably end up being a fan.”

Griffin describes being based out of New Orleans as, “getting to be a big fish in a small pond.” And in a region so maligned by disaster, the band has given back by adopting a local elementary school and buying the local fire department equipment when post-Katrina federal funding failed to come through.

Continuing its reinvention, or at least being a lot different from the band people expected to be the precursor to Smash Mouth, the current tour is called the “Road to Mardi Gras.” Typical/cheesy for a NOLA band? Not so fast.

“We’re doing this destination event that no one’s ever done that pulls people into something that is done during Mardi Gras,” said Griffin. “Music fans from around the country will come down for three days of 24-7 music, gambling, drinking, private viewing stands for the best parades on St. Charles, a private balcony on Bourbon Street hosted by Better Than Ezra.”

It all sounds too Andy Griffith to be true – but the fans are the testament. And the fact is, the “Oh-wah-ah” band is still kickin’ it while the Eve 6’s and Lit’s are still trying to figure out what happened to that fleeting success.

At the midpoint of the Paradise show, Griffin introduced “a new song we’re still kinda workin’ out the kinks to.” Veterans of Better Than Ezra knew what was coming next, and, on cue, came the driving bass of “Good.”

“Oh-wah-ah,” indeed.

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