Article and Photos by: Jason Robey
SCOTTSDALE, AZ – In the heart of Oldtown Scottsdale, AZ, one would never know it was a Wednesday night. Between the crowded parking, the sidewalks crawling with people, and the block-long line in front of Livewire, it certainly didn’t feel like people had to work in the morning. Lining the street in front of the venue were tour busses, belonging to O.A.R. and their tourmates, The Hunts. The line outside the door was only a hint at how packed the inside would be, even an hour before showtime.
The Hunts kicked off the music, with a 45-minute set of lively indie-folk, in the vibe of other current bands like The Lumineers. They are a seven-piece band, all brothers and sisters with the surname, Hunt. With ages ranging from 18-27, and this musical family wasted no time taking command of the sold-out venue as soon as they walked on stage. Over the course of their set, several members would play more than one instrument, though Josh was most often center-stage singing lead vocals and strumming an acoustic guitar. Elsewhere on the stage, various combinations of instruments included banjo, piano, djembe, accordion, drums, mandolin, violin, and at one point — a wooden chair, which Jenni and Justin played with drumsticks.
The band opened with their latest single/video, “Illuminate,” starting with a quiet piano intro from Jonathan, and quickly building into an upbeat stomp that captivated the roughly 1,100 people in the room. This was followed by some reconfiguring of the instruments and members, before launching into one of four new songs they would play, called “Far.” The rest of the eleven songs they played are on their full-length debut, Those Younger Days, released in 2015. The Hunts, individually and as a group, showed their talents as musicians and songwriters, as they layered well-crafted harmonies on beds of beautiful and lively music.
After a short break, the house lights went down, and intro music began playing over the sound system, bringing out the headliner of the evening, O.A.R, as they launched into their 2005 hit single, “Love and Memories.” This tour is called XX, in celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary, with similarly titled album of greatest hits recently released, as well. During “Someone in the Road,” from their 2001 album, Risen, a montage of the group’s home movies played on the backdrop.
O.A.R.’s show bridged the gap between jam bands, such as The Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic, and more mainstream, radio-friendly rock. The band’s songwriting shows a catchy pop-sensibility, while live performances often turn into extended instrumental jams and songs that flow seamlessly from one to the next. Tonight’s show featured a string of “Someone in the Road,” “About An Hour Ago,” and “Whose Chariot?,” that clocked in at more than 15 minutes without stopping. They also played extra-long versions of “City On Down,” featuring a percussion interlude with Chris Culos on drums and Mikel Paris playing timbales, “Anyway,” with a horn jam by saxophonist Jerry DiPizzo and trumpet player Jon Lampley, and “Dareh Meyod,” which included a verse of Sublime’s “Pawn Shop” slipped in the middle. A peek at the setlist on the stage suggests that make a lot of decisions on the fly.
Tonight’s show showcased songs from the band’s entire career, pulling fan favorites from all the way back to their first album, The Wanderer, recorded when the band members were still in high school, and touching on all eight of their studio albums . The original lineup from 1996 is still intact, with vocalist/guitarist Marc Roberge, guitarist Richard On, bassist Benj Gorshman and drummer Chris Culos, with the addition of DiPizzo, Paris and Lampley over the years.
One highlight of the evening was the popular single, “Hey Girl,” which has been re-recorded for three of the band’s studio albums. The audience was singing so loud that Roberge stepped away from mic for a while, with a smile on his face, and let the crowd take over. The band ended the show in their usual manner, with one of their earliest songs, “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” which originally appeared on The Wanderer, as well as all five of their commercial live releases. Long-time fans of the band came prepared for this encore, with decks of cards that they began flipping up in the air and from the balcony throughout the nearly-ten-minute performance.