Review / photos / setlist: OK Go bring a carnival of fun to Crowbar in Ybor City
Usually, when something goes wrong onstage in the middle of a concert, most bands banter awkwardly with fans, maybe noodle around on the guitar.
This is what happens when you're the most intelligent, most innovative, and merriest band of miscreants in rock. You've already reinvented the concept of the music video, and you're doing everything you can to reinvent the music industry as a whole.
What's left? Reinvent the concert experience.
And so, on Friday night in Ybor City, the hundreds of fans who packed into Crowbar for OK Go's first Tampa concert since 2006 were treated to a multisensory spectacle, including (but not limited to) blizzards of confetti, laser-shooting guitars, electronic sport coats, handbell interludes, onstage fan participation and not one but two excursions by Kulash into the crowd. And, of course, Les Mis.
Plus, anyone who wanted to remember the experience forever could buy a high-quality bootleg of the concert on a custom flash drive, along with videos and a copy of OK Go's latest album, Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky, just 10 minutes after the show. Brilliant.
It's that kind of outside-the-box interaction with their fans that has made OK Go one of the most interesting -- if not necessarily one of the best-selling -- rock bands working today.
Producing one or two catchy singles per album and being known as "that viral video band" is both a blessing and a curse for OK Go. Being able to back their online reputation up in concert is key. During past shows, they've been known to reenact their dance from the A Million Ways video, rather than actually perform the song. (Bringing treadmills to recreate Here It Goes Again is probably cost prohibitive.)
Their latest video, for This Too Shall Pass, is their best to date, and in my opinion, it's their best song, too. Reminds me of the Flaming Lips -- which, incidentally, is another band that's known more for its stylishly offbeat aesthetics than its catalog. The power-poppy OK Go aren't as trippy as the Lips, but in a live setting, their hearts seem to be in the same place.
Like Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, Kulash is one of the smartest, most eloquent dudes in rock music, with a gift for style and stage banter, just like his old pal Nordwind.
Their impromptu Les Mis performance on Friday was a treat for longtime fans. Kulash told our own Marty Clear recently that the band didn't perform it much nowadays -- only when it was deemed necessary to fill time due to a technical mishap. At Crowbar, the band's confetti machines knocked out the spotlights on Kulash and guitarist/keyboardist Andy Ross, and after six songs, a roadie had to climb a ladder to repair them. So Kulash and Nordwind -- friends and drama nerds since childhood -- put down their instruments and broke into a stellar performance of Confrontation, with Kulash as Javert and Nordwind as Valjean. (I'd have preferred Master of the House, but what are you gonna do?)
The surprises kept coming throughout the night. For WTD, all four members of the band put down their instruments and played an arrangement of handbells, harmonizing along with Kulash in an ethereal departure from your average mid-concert "living room" set. Then the singer picked up an acoustic guitar and hopped into the crowd for a rendition of Last Leaf, standing atop a crate on the dancefloor.
After making a few jokes about Tampa's rep as the strip club capital of the world, he apologized to a 12-year-old fan at the foot of the stage, then invited her up to play tambourine on Back From Kathmandu. It was a heartwarming moment, and the crowd loved it, cheering as loud for the girl as they did at any other point during the night.
Singles like Get Over It, Here It Goes Again and A Million Ways were pretty straightforward, but on This Too Shall Pass, Kulash led the crowd in a deafening singalong and once again hopped into the crowd with the confetti-coated masses so they could scream the chorus with him.
There were no treadmills, and there sure as hell was no room for a Rube Goldberg device on Crowbar's tiny stage. But for the encore, the band returned with light-up jackets ...
... and yeah, maybe it seemed a little gimmicky at times, but OK Go is an extremely smart band. They know people want to be entertained, whether it's by viewing a video 50 million times or plunking down $20 for the chance to see a band don fuzzy laser guitars and reenact scenes from Les Miserables.
The important thing is, it's working. Thanks to their own ingenuity and shrewd image management, OK Go is able to do whatever they want both in the studio and in concert, and they should be for a long time to come. The music industry's loss is a big-time gain for OK Go's fans.
Before OK Go took the stage, Brooklyn rock trio Earl Greyhound melted a few faces with a raw set of sweaty, skanky garage boogie. The two most impressive things about their performance: (1) The sheer badassedness of Amazonian singer-bassist Kamara Thomas, and (2) the ginormous drum set belonging to Ricc Sheridan. It completely dominated the stage, to the point that Sheridan had to wall himself in while erecting it. During Sheridan's levels check, it sounded like a giant was stomping down Seventh Avenue.
The evening kicked off with a too-short set by singer-songwriter Robert Francis, whose dreamy alt-country sound and sparkling guitars called to mind Ryan Adams or Band of Horses. It was captivating stuff. The next time Francis comes through town, give the dude a listen.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*
OK GO SETLIST
3. A Million Ways
4. All Is Not Lost
5. I Want You So Bad I Can't Breathe
6. White Knuckles / Confrontation (from Les Miserables)
7. Oh Lately It's So Quiet
8. A Good Idea at the Time
9. Here It Goes Again
11. Last Leaf
12. Don't Ask Me
13. Get Over It
14. Back From Kathmandu
15. You're So Damn Hot
16. This Too Shall Pass
19. Do What You Want