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Better Than Ezra's Enduring Sound Rocks Irving Plaza

by Brian Corliss

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This past Wednesday, New Orleans–based rockers Better Than Ezra brought their timeless sound up north and through the halls of Irving Plaza for a concert that, being frank, floored this reviewer in blissful awe.

The night opened with a duo singularly named for its singer, John McLaughlin—no, not the guitar legend, but rather the young and handsome keyboardist. Playing what he called "soft-keyboard-rock-'n'-roll," it verged more on pop-rock, similar to the group Civil Twilight but much more upbeat. Armed with an iPad as a drum machine, they performed admirably, although this may have been the wrong type of crowd for their sound.

When I say "wrong type of crowd," I mean that the noticably divided generational gap that packed its way into every corner of the venue was there solely for the headliners. Whether you grew up with "Good" or started with their last effort, 2009's Paper Empire, Better Than Ezra had everyone jumping and shaking with one or both hands in the air, holding one or two beers in the air, spilling them about.

After a quarter century of touring and their release of seven full-length albums, Better Than Ezra retain their '90s alt-rock sound, with plenty of heavy guitar riffs and funky bass licks. The group's new drummer, Michael Jerome, is simply a virtuoso with the sticks, pumping the chests of the head-banging crowd with every kick of the drum. Equally outstanding to witness was the amazing longevity of Kevin Griffin's voice—still infecting the catchy tunes with ringing vocals that force you to sing along.

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The band's set list included classics like "Sincerely, Me," "Desperately Wanting," and "Juicy," and they even interjected the whole chorus from Lorde's "Royals" into their performance of "Extra Ordinary," capping the song with a bit of "'Ella, 'Ella, 'Ella," presumably from Rihanna's smash hit "Umbrella."

From their upcoming album, All Together Now, which is currently without a release date, they treated the crowd to a few songs, including one they've never played live before: "Gonna Get Better," which was more like a dance song and met with a mixed reaction from the crowd (the group of guys next to me immediately said that it sounded too much like Coldplay.) "Crazy Lucky," their newest single, was much more of a return to form with the rest of the band's library though still light on the hard-strumming chords and '90s spirit. Overall it's a good song, poppy and with a catchy chorus.

Better Than Ezra flat-out owned Irving Plaza on Wednesday night, and showcased exactly why they are still touring and still releasing music. Their new songs come from a new wave of experimentation, and although they seem just "good enough," all was forgiven because the rest of their set was absolute excellence.

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